Teens speaking out: Who is responsible?

2014-08-15 17:11
King David Victory Park's deputy head boy Joshua Broomberg and fellow students. (<a href= ‘https://twitter.com/Hijab_support'>Hijab support group</a>)

King David Victory Park's deputy head boy Joshua Broomberg and fellow students. (Hijab support group)

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Cape Town - As the row over a Jewish school boy’s Facebook post deepens, News24 looks at how far teenagers are responsible for what they say.

Last week, an online petition called for the removal of King David Victory Park's deputy head boy for wearing a keffiyeh in support of Palestinians living in Gaza.

Joshua Broomberg, in Thailand for the World Schools Debating Championship, posted a photo of himself and his debating team accompanied by the message: “Team South Africa... show our opposition to the human rights violations being carried out against the people of Palestine”.

The schoolboys’ move to support Palestine, however, divided the country’s Jewish community and quickly spiralled into a debate over the boys’ own human rights.

Indeed, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has now waded into the row, and is investigating claims from a second King David’s pupil that he has been bullied and discriminated against for expressing his views on Israel.

Where do schools come in?

Schools have their own codes of conducts and rules to abide by or risk disciplinary action - and most include social media rules that are signed by both pupils and their parents/guardians.

The rules vary between schools but many include:

No access to social media below the age of 13

No form of bullying of other children

No accessing of inappropriate material, including images or videos of a sexual nature

No tolerance of racism or hate speech

No bringing the school into disrepute

In Broomberg’s case, King David’s decided not to take further action against the student - despite calls for his expulsion.

The school board said in a statement: "This has been a learning opportunity for the 17-year-old pupil concerned [Broomberg] and he has both explained his stance in a later posting and genuinely apologised for the hurt it produced.”

Do teenagers have the right to speak out?

Everyone has the right to free expression, regardless of age. But the right to free expression is not unlimited.

According to South Africa’s Bill of Responsibility, the right does not allow people to express views that advocate hatred, or are based on prejudices with regard to race, ethnicity, gender or religion.

The Bill states: “We must, therefore, take responsibility to ensure this right is not abused by ourselves or others, to not tell or spread lies, and to ensure others are not insulted or have their feelings hurt.”

According to the SAHRC, the King David’s student feels that his rights were violated for expressing his views about Israel on social media.

The SAHRC spokesperson said: “Our investigation will reveal whether the pupil’s comments amounted to hatred, or the school was wrong to gag him and violate his freedom of speech and right to hold an opinion and debate”.

How responsible are youths for their actions?

The SAHRC, however, isn’t the police.  Its role is to investigate and report on the observance of human rights, then according to the spokesperson “take steps and secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated”.

Any child under the age of 10 can’t be held responsible for their actions under South African law. At 10, a child reaches the age of criminal responsibility but is still considered a minor by the law until they are 18.

Eighteen is the age of majority - when you cease being a minor and when “full legal capacity” begins. This is when you can sue and be sued in a court of law, enter into contracts without a parent or guardian, choose to marry without your parent’s consent and access many other rights that you are free to have without your parents’ permission.

Until they are 18, children are the responsibility of their parents or guardians - and ultimately the government.

Read more on:    facebook  |  johannesburg  |  education  |  social networks

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