Bullying and the Law

What is bullying?

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Bullying includes physical attacks, purposeful alienation, spreading false rumours, verbal abuse and various forms of emotional mistreatment. It also consists of any form of cyber-bullying as well.

When has it become OK for kids to be bullied? We cannot stand for this and as adults we need to stand together to protect our children!

Types of Bullying

There are three types of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:
  1. Teasing
  2. Name-calling
  3. Inappropriate sexual comments
  4. Taunting
  5. Threatening to cause harm
  • Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
  1. Leaving someone out on purpose
  2. Telling other children not to be friends with someone
  3. Spreading rumors about someone
  4. Embarrassing someone in public
  • Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:
  1. Hitting/kicking/pinching
  2. Spitting
  3. Tripping/pushing
  4. Taking or breaking someone’s things
  5. Making mean or rude hand gestures

Signs your child is being bullied

Parents are frequently unaware of what is occurring to their child because some forms of bullying leave no outward marks and some children may feel shame or embarrassment talking about it. However, there are signs to look out for, that may indicate that your child is being bullied:

  • They act out by losing their temper over something insignificant
  • They don’t want to go to school and actively look for reasons not to go
  • They don’t want to talk about school
  • They say things like: “I hate my life”; “I wish I had never been born”
  • They retreat into their own angry world
  • Their ability to concentrate and learn is reduced
  • They have unexplained cuts or bruises
  • Incidences of stolen or damaged possessions and clothing

Dealing with cyberbullying (supplied by the SAPS)

Cyberbullying occurs when a child or teen uses the Internet, emails, text messages, instant messaging, social media websites, online forums, chat rooms, or other digital technology to harass, threaten or humiliate another child or teen. Cyberbullies come in all shapes and sizes.

Almost anyone with an Internet connection or cellular phone can cyberbully someone else, often without having to reveal their true identity.

Cyberbullies can torment their victims 24 hours a day and the bullying can follow the victim anywhere so that no place, not even home, ever feels safe, and with a few clicks, the humiliation can be witnessed by hundreds or even thousands of people online.

Prevent cyberbullying before it starts

Teach your children to:

  • block communication with cyberbullies.
  • never post or share their personal information online, including their full name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), the school’s name, parents’ names, credit card number(s), or their friends’ personal information.
  • never share their Internet passwords with anyone, except you.
  • talk to you about their life online.
  • not put anything online that they would not want their classmates to see.
  • not send messages when they are angry or upset.
  • always be as polite online as they are in person.

What does the law say about bullying?

The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (SASA)

This law stipulates that public schools’ governing bodies must compile a code of conduct, which the institution must enforce. Of course, the purpose of this is to provide a basic set of rules regarding learner behaviour and performance. School should have specific procedures in place to deal with cases of bullying and appropriate punishment.

If the school fails to take action, victims, parents or guardians are backed by other laws in the Constitution regarding seeking justice.

The Children’s Act 38 of 2005

With an emphasis on protecting children against abuse and neglect, this law works to eradicate bullying in schools. It gives every South African child the right to bring a case of bullying to court. It’s important to note that the Act’s aim is not to punish a bully but restore the balance thrown off when one child caused harm to another. So, the focus is on restorative justice through specific programmes and processes. Bullies will be held accountable for their actions, but the aim is to rehabilitate and not punish them. It also means that in conjunction with SASA, the state and, in some cases, the particular school can be held liable for any damage, injury or loss suffered by a learner in a public school. This is likely when, for example, a school is aware of a specific learner’s constant difficulties with bullies but fails to intervene. Institutions then face paying out for damages.

The Child Justice Act 75 of 2008

Building on the Children’s Act and emphasising offenders need to be held in different moral standards by society, the Child Justice Act also calls for restorative justice. Still, the law acknowledges that bullying cases can contain a criminal element.

Therefore, the law calls for a separate criminal justice system for children. This particular Act divides the persons to whom it applies into three categories: children below 10 years of age; children 10 years and older but younger than 18; and young people 18 years of age and older but under 21 years. In the context of learner-on-learner bullying at school, the perpetrator will usually be a child and would thus fall into one of the first two categories. Before considering the perpetrator’s criminal responsibility, one needs to establish whether the child has criminal capacity.

The Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011

This is the latest supplement of the legal framework that protects and enforces the rights of bullying victims.

It states that those who suffer at their fellow learners’ hands can apply for a protection order against their perpetrators. While a parent or legal guardian would usually do this, section 2(4) of the Protection from Harassment Act states that a child may apply for a protection order without the assistance of his or her parents.

If issued, the bully can not continue to harass the victim or ask anyone else to do so on his or her behalf. Depending on the circumstances, a court could also order a bully to attend therapy for the sake of rehabilitation and not becoming a repeat offender.

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