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Parents welcome suggestions that school bullies should be sent to prison

It is against South African laws to send children to prison for bullying.

Parents whose children are survivors and victims of bullying welcome suggestions that perpetrators of bullying in schools should be sent to prison. Reports claiming that school bullies could now face prison time emerged, and a debate on social media ensued about whether imprisoning children who bully others is the correct measure to try and stop this scourge. However, the Centre for Child Law (CCL) released a statement pointing out that South African law does not allow for children to be sent to prison.

According to the CCL, “Children in conflict with the law who have criminal capacity and are found guilty of offences may be sent to a child and youth care centre, depending on the nature of the offence.”
The statement further reads, “A child under the age of 12 years: This child does not have any criminal capacity, may not be arrested, and thus cannot be prosecuted. This means that the child does not understand the difference between right and wrong and cannot act accordingly.”

Bullying is a pervasive issue plaguing schools worldwide, affecting countless learners’ physical and emotional well-being. It is a form of aggressive behaviour characterised by repeated acts of intimidation, harassment and power imbalance. Bullying can manifest in various forms, including verbal, physical, and cyberbullying, leaving lasting scars on its victims.

Children under the age of 14 cannot be sent to prison for bullying.

An anonymous* parent in Fourways, whose son is a survivor of bullying in school said, “My son was bullied not only by the kids at school but also by the owner/principal. My son refused to go to school. My mom is now home-schooling him as he doesn’t trust anyone.”
Replying to a comment posted on social media that suggested that social workers be placed in schools, rather than imprisoning children, the Basic Education Department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga wrote, “The problems often start somewhere else and then show up in school. What’s needed is a comprehensive set of solutions, not one. Just like in all affected communities [everyone involved] must play their role rather than expect school to sort it out for everyone else. Social workers are part of the mix.”

The statement from the CCL continues, “A child between 14 years and 17 years: This child is presumed to have criminal capacity and can be prosecuted. This means the child understands the difference between right and wrong and can act accordingly.”
Furthermore, “As a child rights organisation, [the CCL] is equally concerned about the increased rates of all forms of bullying among children and the need for more robust responses by the parents, schools and society as a whole. However, such responses must clearly be guided by existing laws and policies. Schools are encouraged to have policies in line with these laws, to educate learners about these and to enforce the policies to ensure that children are protected in the schooling environment.”
*Name withheld to protect the child from further victimisation.

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