Today as declared by UNESCO, on the first Thursday of November, it is The International Day against Violence and Bullying at Schools Including Cyber Bullying.
Growing up we knew the word bully. We used it loosely because I actually don’t remember there being intense amounts of bullying taking place in my school. I vividly recall one very specific act of violence against me by an older boy and it was outside of school. One Saturday afternoon walking home from my aunt’s home with my cousin, two boys came up to us and tried to make conversation. When we refused to speak to them, the one removed his belt from his pants and hit me across the face with the side of the belt that had the buckle on. I felt like my world was shattered; I had never experienced anything as violating as this before. I remember running home with tears in my eyes to tell my grandfather. When I got there, my older brother, cousin and grandfather responded in sheer anger – I was the apple of my older brother’s eye after all – which resulted in an unfortunate violent encounter between the older boy and my protectors.
Schools are supposed to be safe.
In recent years we have seen more frequent headlines reporting on violence in schools and the increase in bullying incidents. In recent years, to my dismay, more of these incidents resulted in the deaths of young boys and girls than I would like to read. In 2020 South African Crime Statistics revealed that a shocking 9 deaths from bullying-related incidents had occurred between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020. This was higher than the number of prison deaths related to prison violence that occurred during the same period. That statistic alone is enough to send shivers down my spine. The thought that the level of violence in schools was being compared to that in prisons, is devastating.
Our country has been plagued by horror stories that include headlines such as the following:
- Grade 12 girl stabs grade 8 boy to death.
- 12-year-old boy victimised and eaten by a 16-year-old boy fearful to return to school.
- Boy killed at school where bullying and eventual retaliation have been blamed for death.
It’s not enough to just catch it on camera
I could list more but I think you see how serious this particular issue has become in our country. David Chapelle, in an interview where asked about George Floyd and his thoughts he said one particular thing that stuck with me, “I wouldn’t want people to get the incident on camera but I’d want someone to stand up and do something to stop me from being killed.” I immediately thought of the countless videos that make the rounds on social media, of children being violently attacked by others, videos where seniors of a school stand in a circle encouraging the assault of a junior learner while bystanders record the incident but do nothing to stop it.
I remember a time when in schools, being a bystander got you in almost as much trouble as being an active participant in a violent incident. You were punished for being present. Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how I still believe “it takes a village” and one of the things that led me to that in the first place was the lack of consequences in the public school system for poor behaviour. How powerless schools have become on how they decide to discipline learners.
Normalise standing up!
The onus falls on parents. It is our responsibility to ensure that we educate our kids on bullying. On how other kids are and aren’t allowed to treat them. Encourage them to speak up. Teach them the importance of not being a bystander who records and cheer on violent behaviour. Ask them how they would feel if they stood by and watched a fight that resulted in the death of a fellow learner. Remind them, that this is a real possible outcome. Embolden them to be the one out of ten bystanders who immediately goes to get help, or who makes others stand up against the attackers in numbers, to protect the victim.
We have to start changing the norm that is violence watching, violent assault, harassment and bullying. We need to put an end to the entitlement one child feels over the life of another.
Not only today but every day!
*These are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Vannie Kaap News.