Article contributed by Umhlanga Law Firm: Fawzia Khan and Associates
There is a definite increase in the number of cyber-bullying cases involving children that our legal practice is receiving instructions to deal with. Most of these instructions are from distraught parents whose children are the victims of cyberbullying.
Cyber bullying has been described as being like playground bullying, except that its perpetrated electronically, through text messages, picture and video clips, emails, chat rooms and instant messages. It often involves a perpetrator naming and shaming a victim. The bullying tactics also include harassment, direct physical threats, demeaning and degrading attacks on a person, leaving the victim feeling overwhelmed, humiliated and degraded. Often the attackers will hide behind anonymity or will disguise their true identity.
Children are most likely to be targets of cyberbullying and parents should maintain vigilance to pick up any change in the mood and behaviour patterns of their children. These heinous acts of bullying erode into the victim’s self-esteem not to mention their personal safety. Many parents are unaware that their child is being bullied. The child is not only often too embarrassed to let the parents know he/she is being bullied, they may also be terrified that they need to own up to the parents that they have been on sites which they know is taboo.
Children themselves may be the bully. In terms of our law, a child from age 11 to 18 is considered legally liable for their actions. Studies have shown that most cyberbullying was carried out by a child’s class mate.
Cyberbullying has been described when a child or group of children, under the age of 18, intentionally intimidate, offend, threaten or embarrass another child or group of children, specifically through the use of information technology.
There have been a number of shocking images and videos involving children in SA bullying each other. Millie Bobby Brown (an actress), Rita Ora and Cara Delavigne started sharing their stories to the world about how they were also victims of cyberbullying being bullied, both at school and online.
Parents are encouraged to educate themselves about the dangers of social media bullies. They are advised to tell their children not to share personal information online, regardless of whether it's with friends or strangers. Tell your children never to agree to meet their online 'friends' in person. It’s crucial for parents to allow for an open channel of communication with their children so that the child is able to talk about people or situations which are causing them to suffer stress or anxiety.
From a legal perspective, a parent could on behalf of the child, institute civil proceedings for defamation. Criminal charges of crimen injuria, harassment and hate speech and racism which is a form of hate speech can also be laid. It’s unlawful and a crime to intentionally and seriously impair the dignity of another person by stalking, emotionally or psychologically abusing or harming someone. You can also bring an interdict or protection order against the perpetrator. The Protection from Harassment Act 2011 will allow someone who has been bullied to approach the court for an interim protection order.
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