School bullies could soon face jail time in South Africa

 ·22 Aug 2023

Bullied school children could soon apply for a protection order against a peer without the involvement of parents or guardians. This means bullies could be jailed or put through social service programmes for bullying under certain circumstances.

Bullying has long been a prevalent and well-contested issue in South African schools, and currently, there are several Acts aimed at protecting children from bullying in South African law, including:

  • The South African Schools Act;
  • The Cyber Crime Act 2020;
  • The Protection of Harassment Act 2008; and
  • The Child Justice Act 2011.

Despite these Acts, the government continues to see a rise in cases of bullying in schools, with the Department of Basic Education having noted a rise in children committing suicide as a result of persistent bullying.

“It is clear that South Africa has a huge problem when it comes to bullying, especially among those of school-going age,” said Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga.

The government is currently looking into establishing new laws that would allow school children to get a protection order against another, with the potential of jail time if the bully is in contravention of the order.

A Protection Order is an order issued by a court ordering a person (the respondent) to stop the abuse. It’s a legal document that specifies the conditions that an abuser must adhere to, as specified by the courts.

Mhlanga noted that – where age allows – there will be a part to play by correctional services; however, in cases where the bully is as young as 10 years, social services would then get involved and put them through programmes designed to “correct them” and teach them the impact of their actions.

“This new law won’t solve all our problems, but it would go a long way in putting together measures required to eradicate bullying in our schools,” he added.

Issues with the new law proposal

Criminal law experts have shared some criticism over the new law, noting that a child – especially those as young as 10 years old – might not have the capacity to fully understand right and wrong and appreciate the processes of the court.

“One must consider this issue of capacity. Having a child on their own applying for any kind of order against somebody is problematic,” said Criminal law expert William Booth.

“Parents have to get involved. Regarding bullying at school, authorities at the school – such as the teachers, counsellors, or headmasters – should also be involved,” he added.

Booth also noted an issue with the protection order itself and said monitoring the guidelines ordered by the court – such as maintaining a certain distance away from the victim – would be an administrative nightmare for schools.

“Bullying at schools has been a problem for a long, long time, and school departments, the education department, and parents must come up with a better plan to deal with this issue and how to stop the problem before we jump to a legal offence,” he said.

Booth added it’s a difficult subject to tackle, but parents, communities, and schools need to hash it out before need laws have to come into play.

Read: Controversial new laws for schools in South Africa a step closer to reality

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