Tormented at school and online

2018-01-21 05:46

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Lethu Mhlongo* was harassed so badly by her schoolmates for being fat that she considered not going back to school.

Her bullies at Thuto-Lesedi Senior Secondary School in Vosloorus, Gauteng, posted nasty messages on social media in 2016.

They called her a “fat arse bitch” and said she “exposes her arse and scratch marks” because her uniform ended just above her knees.

She told City Press that her schoolmates would look up her skirt as she walked up the stairs at school.

“Every morning, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and angry when going to school. I just wanted to stop going there. But my siblings and friends would tell me not to pay attention to what was happening,” Mhlongo said.

Thanks to her friends, Mhlongo is now in Grade 11.

Her schoolmates, with help from the Columba Leadership Programme, began an initiative to end bullying at the school.

As schools reopened this week, legal experts warned that parents were likely to face legal action if they failed to educate their children about the implications of posting or forwarding slanderous and disparaging content on social-media platforms.

Johannes du Plessis, legal adviser at Risk Benefit Solutions, said it was vital to educate pupils about the consequences of generating and forwarding content that is harmful to other children and that could be described as cyberbullying.

It was best for children not to share other people’s posts – even if they innocently considered the content to be a joke – he said.

He added that if a derogatory post had already been shared, it should be removed immediately.

“If your child is tagged in such a post, your child should untag himself or herself immediately,” he said.

There have been previous court findings against those who post, share and were tagged in posts that contained defamatory content. Those involved could be charged with defamation and could end up being ordered to pay part of the penalties.

“Some posts do not relate to physical assault, but may infringe on a child’s right to dignity, and could harm the child mentally and psychologically,” he said.

Bullying frequently overlooked

In 2014, a video showing a 15-year-old boy being punched by a 16-year-old fellow pupil was shared online.

The punch was so forceful that his nose was broken off his skull and his jaw had to be reconstructed

In this matter, said Du Plessis, the parents chose to open a criminal case against the offending pupil, who pleaded guilty to a charge of assault.

“Parents should constantly remind children that such behaviour may see them land up with a criminal record.

"Since universities, employers and other countries tend to require criminal checks to be done, this might prevent them from studying further, getting a job or travelling abroad.

"Even if the child is able to eventually obtain a good job, their salary may be attached to civil court proceedings.”

Faiza Faith, who heads Childline’s 24-hour hotline in Gauteng, said bullying was frequently overlooked because teachers and parents were often unaware it was taking place, did not know how to deal with it or thought it was just part of growing up.

“The situation is worsened by the fact that many victims of bullying are often afraid to report it for fear that things will get worse for them. This leads to the normalisation and acceptance of violent behaviour. The perception is that nothing can or will be done about it,” Faith said.

She encouraged parents to work with schools to deal with bullying.

They also had the option to arrange counselling for the bully and the bullied – many bullies have themselves been victims of bullying or other abuse.

Faith said parents should have an open line of communication with their children to prevent them from being bullies.

Department of basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department intended to commission a study into violence at schools over the past five years.

The last research on school violence, including bullying, was conducted in 2012.

“The advent of social-media platforms has brought about increased reporting of incidents of bullying.

"We are encouraged by the fact that people [victims] are more informed of their rights, which reflects in the high levels of reporting,” he said, adding that policies against bullying form part of the code of conduct in schools.

He urged parents to report any bullying behaviour to teachers and school management teams.

*Not her real name

SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED

. Unexplained bruises, scratches and cuts;

. Seems sad, moody or depressed, withdrawn, change of appetite and trouble sleeping;

. Poor self-esteem, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts;

. Thoughts or acts of revenge, including murder;

. Frequently ill to avoid attending school;

. Sudden decrease in academic performance; and

. Seems afraid of going to school, riding the bus or taxi, walking to school, or taking part in organised activities with peers.

SIGNS OF CYBERBULLYING

. Emotional distress during or after using the internet;

. Being protective or secretive of their digital life;

. Avoidance of school or group gatherings; and

. Slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home.

Source: Childline

Read more on:    elijah mhlanga  |  youth

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