Restorative Justice as a solution to Bullying in Schools:

Bullying in schools is unfortunately a worldwide problem. It may impact children not only physically but also psychologically. In South Africa many children fall victim to bullying, harassment and abuse at schools. A myriad of constitutional rights are infringed upon when bullying occurs. A 2012 UNISA study found that 34.4 % of a sample 3371 learners had experienced bullying. Emotional bullying is more prevalent, with 55.3% of learners falling victim to such bullying, 38.4% being physically victimised, 16.9% being tormented via social media and 2.8% being the victims of verbal bullying.

What is Bullying, precisely?

A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.

Bullying, over time creates a pattern of victimisation, causing harm to a learner or their property through an emotional as well as at times, physical assault on the learner. The victim is controlled through fear, this negative behaviour disrupts the orderly function of school activity and creates a counterproductive learning environment, through this hostility.

While hard to spot, if your child exhibits signs of withdrawal from school activities, avoidance of social events they previously enjoyed, low self-esteem or being uncharacteristically upset after being online, it might well be worth considering bullying as the underlying cause.

It seems, bullies tend to gravitate toward acquiring an elevated status among their peers and crave the power that comes with that status. Through means of establishing dominance over other students, the bully can cause major damage to the victim, but also themselves through misconceived perceptions of power and importance. The shame felt by the victim, leads to continuation of the cycle.

Aren’t there laws against this?

There exists a variety of legislation surrounding the problem, while nothing specifically dealing with the issue. The Children’s Act, Protection from Harassment Act and Child Justice Act all may have application depending on the severity of the problem and the presence of criminal activity. We explore this framework and the remedies in terms of the law in a separate article.

What is Cyber Bullying?

Cyber-bullying is a particular phenomenon which takes place online, we have a more thorough discussion on this issue here. The approach is made more difficult by the anonymity which offenders can have through fake accounts, cat-fishing and very little consequences in the real world, but the emotional damage can be just as serious.

Restorative Justice: A Possible Solution:

Restorative Justice has been defined by the Department of Justice  as an approach to justice that aims to involve the child offender, the victim, the families concerned and community members to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations through accepting responsibility, making restitution, taking measures to prevent a recurrence of the incident and promoting reconciliation. It has as its aim not punishment, not penitence, but the restoration of relationships.
Photo by Sarah Pohl on Unsplash
A further definition names it as “an option for doing justice after the occurrence of an offence that is primarily oriented towards repairing the individual, relational and social harm caused by the offence.” In a school setting, both perpetrator and victim are children and so the traditional criminal punishment approach cannot truly be sustained, for fear of doing more harm to the children involved. The aim should be healing, not punishment. In this way, the issues underlying the conduct can be addressed.
The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (SASA) stipulates the all public schools must enforce a code of conduct, which is compiled by the relevant governing bodies of the institution. Creating a framework for counselling after an incident of bullying, where the victim and perpetrator are both given an opportunity to be heard. A mechanism based on accountability, respect for another’s rights and combating recidivism.
Restorative Justice is the best solution, in that a poorly managed incident of bullying may lead to more bullying down the line. Fear of retribution in the event a victim speaks out is often the underlying basis for the power held by the Bully.
Each school is encouraged to tackle the problem head on, through means of a clear, well-structured policy on Bullying which involves victim, perpetrator and parent participation. A place where the incidents and the underlying causes can be investigated and treated properly.
We trust, through dealing with the problem proactively, with clearly defined procedures in place, the problem may be better resolved.
This article is not intended as legal advice, but merely informative and we hope, thought provoking. Please visit our site http://www.contractuallyspeaking.co.za to get in touch, or our facebook page to see what we’re up to http://www.facebook.com/contractuallyspeaking/ 
All comments or queries are welcome.

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