How to protect your child from being bullied in school
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29 Sep 2021
A guide to help parents identify the signs and address this behaviour
Bullying can cause mental, emotional and physical harm to your child. Here is how you can prevent your child from becoming a victim or victimising others.
Bullying on the rise
Bullying in South African schools is on the rise. This worrying trend, confirmed by recent studies, shows that more than 58% of South African school-goers have experienced some form of bullying, including cyberbullying, which has become increasingly prevalent.
What is bullying?
Bullying occurs when an individual or a group inflict intentional physical, verbal or psychological harm on another person or group. A key component of bullying is the imbalance of power – in other words, the victim may be outnumbered or may not be as emotionally or physically resilient as his/her perpetrator(s). Bullying can lead to severe emotional and physical distress and depression, even years after victimisation.
Bullying is unconstitutional, as it violates the victim’s dignity and right to equality, protection against violence, torture and privacy, according to Section 12 of the Constitution. Section 2 of the Constitution relates to the rights of children to education. It is often based on some form of discrimination (race, gender, sexual orientation etc.) and because this problem affects minors, in particular, it is important to understand the legal framework which protects both victims and offenders. South Africa has implemented several laws that aim to protect children, promote their well-being and prevent bullying.
What the law says
The South African Schools Act (1996) requires schools to adopt a code of conduct or a set of rules around learner behaviour and enforce appropriate disciplinary measures where necessary. According to this law, it is the school’s responsibility to take appropriate action and if it fails to do so, the school can be held liable for damage, injury or loss suffered by a learner.
The Children’s Act (2005) allows a child or a guardian to bring a case of bullying to court. It safeguards and protects children’s rights and, for this reason, does not aim to punish the bully but rehabilitate him/her through appropriate programmes and processes.
The Child Justice Act (2008) recognises the criminal element of bullying and provides a separate criminal justice system for children – with a focus on restorative justice (rehabilitation). If there is proof of criminal intent, a child may be held criminally liable from as young as ten.
The Protection from Harassment Act brought some balance of power as the victim, from 2011 onwards, was able to apply for a protection order against the bully.
Claiming for damages
If your child is a victim of bullying, you can claim damages against the school, the Department of Education and/or the individual (the bully). The party to file against would be dependent on the circumstances of the situation. In terms of civil law, damages are financial pay-outs to the victim.
How to prevent bullying in schools
To prevent bullying from escalating to a criminal level in schools, educators and parents can take proactive measures to either prevent or deal with bullying to stop it in its tracks. Every school should have an anti-bullying policy, while every learner should recognise the harm bullying can have on his/her peers as well as understand the consequences that come with this behaviour. Educators and parents must cultivate an environment of mutual respect, non-judgement and active listening to model the kind of behaviour children must emulate.
What if my child is the bully?
It is hard for any parent to find out that their child is causing harm to another. Children bully for different reasons – peer pressure, in reaction to being bullied themselves, anger management and/or self-esteem issues.
If you find out that your child has been bullying others, act immediately. No matter what the reason for the behaviour, make him/her understand that it is unacceptable and he/she must take responsibility. Rather than shaming your child, open a channel of communication to address the issue appropriately. For example, if your child is responsible for bullying, you might have to help work through issues surrounding the bullying that he/she experienced. Use this as a learning opportunity to instil empathy in your child and develop his/her emotional intelligence.
With Legal&Tax you’re not alone
If your child is experiencing bullying or is bullying others, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice from Legal&Tax. We understand how hard this can be, which is why our lawyers are available to help you.
Article sourced from Legal&Tax.
Disclaimer: The content of this article was correct at the time of publishing, but the legislation or underlying information forming the basis of this article may have changed. You should always speak to a qualified Legal&Tax advisor before making any decisions.
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Vuyokazi Mpela is a Legal Advisor at Legal&Tax. Vuyokazi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law, from the University of Johannesburg. She is an experienced attorney skilled in the drafting of... Read more about Vuyokazi Mpela