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  Legalwise Wiseup  
     
  September 2016  
     
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How to treat bullying in schools
John is 9 years old and is being bullied at school by one of his class mates, Trevor. Trevor is teasing John on a daily basis by calling him a loser and piggy breath, hitting John during breaks and sending John threatening text messages of how he is going to make him pay for being such a nerd. John informed his parents of the bullying and they want to know if they can bring criminal charges against Trevor. LegalWise advised them as follows:

  • Bullying can appear in many forms, such as physical abuse or verbal abuse. The following offences might arise from these types of bullying:
    • Assault – for example, where a person hits another person (physical abuse) or where a person threatens another person that s/he will hit him/her.
    • Crimen iniuria – for example, where one person teases and humiliates another person by calling him/her names (verbal abuse).
  • If a child is being bullied at school by another child (“bully”), the following options are available to that child, his/her parents or legal guardians:
    • A protection order can be obtained in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act against the bully at the Magistrate’s Court. A child can apply for a protection order without assistance, however, it is advisable for the child to consult with his/her parents, legal guardians, teacher or any other reliable person to assist him/her in bringing such an application.
    • The bully may be reported to the school’s governing body as soon as possible. The school will hold a disciplinary hearing and discipline the bully in terms of the school’s Code of Conduct, which might lead to the bully being suspended.
    • A criminal charge can be brought against the bully at the South African Police Service (“SAPS”). However, if the bully is under the age of 10 years, s/he does not have criminal capacity and cannot be held criminally liable. This does not mean that the bully will not face the consequences of his/her actions.

What consequences may a bully under the age of 10 years face?

  • After the parents or legal guardians of a child have brought a criminal charge against the bully under the age of 10 years, at the SAPS, the following procedure will be followed:
    • A probation officer (such as a qualified social worker) will be appointed and will do an assessment of the bully.
    • The purpose of the assessment is to gather all the necessary information regarding the criminal charges and what appropriate measures should be taken against the bully.
    • The assessment must be done as soon as possible, but not later than 7 days after the probation officer has been notified about the matter.
    • The assessment will be held at a private place, such as a police station, an office of a Child Justice Centre or a Magistrate’s Court, and the bully’s parents or legal guardians are allowed to be present during this assessment.
    • After the assessment, the probation officer can select one or more of the following appropriate measures that the bully must follow, such as to:
      • refer the bully for counselling or therapy;
      • refer the bully to an accredited programme to suit the needs of the bully;
      • arrange for support services; or
      • decide to take no action.
    • If the bully fails to comply with a decision made by the probation officer, s/he may be referred to the Child Justice Court.

What consequences may a bully over the age of 10 years face?

  • After the parents or legal guardians of a child have brought a criminal charge against the bully over the age of 10 years, at the SAPS, the following procedure will be followed:
    • A police official will hand the bully a written notice or summons which will indicate the place, date and time where the bully must attend a preliminary inquiry.
    • The written notice or summons must be delivered to the bully in the presence of his/her parents or legal guardians, who must sign the written notice or summons.
    • Before the preliminary inquiry can be held, a probation officer will be appointed to assess the bully in the same manner as mentioned above.
    • After the assessment by the probation officer, the bully must attend the preliminary inquiry.
    • The preliminary inquiry will be held at a Magistrate’s Court and the bully’s parents or legal guardians are allowed to be present during the preliminary inquiry.
    • The purpose of the preliminary inquiry is to, amongst others, consider the assessment of the probation officer and to decide on what appropriate measures should be taken against the bully.
    • After the preliminary inquiry, the bully can be referred for diversion (for example, a rehabilitation programme) or referred to a Child Justice Court to continue with the criminal charges against the bully.
    • If the bully, his/her parents or legal guardians fail to attend a preliminary inquiry, a warrant of arrest may be issued to force that person to attend a preliminary inquiry.

Can a bully be arrested?

  • A bully under the age of 10 years cannot be arrested.
  • A bully over the age of 10 years can be arrested, but usually as a last resort. 
  • If a bully is arrested, s/he must be handed over to his/her parents or legal guardians.
  • If a bully is detained, s/he must be kept separately from adults, with children of the same sex, be protected from maltreatment and must not be subjected to practices that could endanger his/her wellbeing.
  • After being arrested, a bully must be assessed by a probation officer and must be taken to court within 48 hours after the arrest for a preliminary inquiry to be held.

Kindly note that any names used in this article are for illustrative purposes only.

 

 
     
     
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Letter from the Chief Executive Officer
Sexual abuse in schools
What did the judge say?
How to treat bullying in schools
Frequently asked questions
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