Imagine you are a parent of a six-year-old child born with a deformity of the left leg.
You have made all efforts to raise your child not to look at the deformity and the limping but focus on his capabilities and the bigger picture.
As parents, you have done everything within your means to ensure your child accesses quality education in mainstream schools.
Up to this stage, you are satisfied that the strategy is working.
Just as you are preparing for the new school year, a message drops in your phone: “He is saying he doesn’t want to go back to school because he is being bullied by older boys.”
For once you think it is one of those excuses to avoid school. But on close reflection you realise he has never done that before.
In fact he hates long holidays as they deprive him of time to play with other children at school. It gets serious as he states: “Some older boys beat me and say bad things about my leg.”
To thaw the standoff, you get to the negotiation table, he agrees to return to school, but not without conditions — you as the parent must talk to the school and get assurance that his life and others’ are safe from bullies.
Inquisitively, you glean for information about bullying, its causes and effects. You stumble on a Justice for Children Trust paper on bullying in schools in Zimbabwe.
The paper states that school bullying is still a widespread problem.
I was reminded of the days of manyunyu pacollege (newcomers’ initiation ritual) and all sorts of abuse on new students especially Grade Ones, Form Ones and to some extent college and university students.
The paper further states that bullying is a threat to the learning environment for children. It is a monster that stands between the teacher’s efforts to deliver education to your child and his/her ability to learn as the environment is imbued with fear.
Psychologically human beings’ attention, especially children, is more easily distracted by the existence of fear.
It is therefore a threat to your return on investment in your child’s education and should be nipped in the bud.
Children bully for a number of reasons some of which include frustrations, learning difficulties, poor or no role model, abuse and neglect at home, jealousy, resentment, undue influence and several other reasons.
Being bullied can also turn a child into a bully if parents and teachers fail to deal with the bullying environment as the child adopts retaliatory aggressive behaviour as a survival strategy, thereby creating a violent school environment which may feed into a violent society.
Children at a Cape Town school in 2008 resorted to carrying guns, machetes and other weapons in their school bags to defend themselves from bullies.
Ken Rigby (1998), a psychoanalyst, stirs more panic as he warns that “bullying involves an initial desire to hurt, this desire is expressed in action, someone is hurt, the action is directed by a more powerful person or group, it is without justification, it is typically repeated, and it is done so with evident enjoyment”.
Bullying is usually characterised by physical assault, verbal harassment, intimidation or the more subtle forms of social aggression resultantly making the lives of the bullied children a living hell at school.
The moment a school environment turns into hell, children invariably develop a negative attitude towards school, exhibit signs of depression, develop anxiety disorders, have low self-esteem, sudden drop in school performance, sleep and eating disorders and can even develop a suicidal motivation.
It may be hard to completely eradicate bullying but it can surely be reduced by creating an environment that allows the victim to seek redress through the school system or the national justice delivery system.
The Children’s Act and Education Act, though they fall short of criminalising bullying, do prohibit any form of child abuse by another child or adult.
School systems must create an environment mutually beneficial for all children, the strong and the weak, big and small, the advantaged and the disadvantaged.
Children must understand from the outset that violence against another child is not acceptable. A policy must not be just a rule book dusted after aggression has been reported or resulted in injury.
Any anti-bullying policy which fails to mention accountability for the bully and for the responsible adults who are failing in their duty of care is likely to meet with at best limited success.
Over and above it is the duty of parents to stop their child from bullying others or from being bullied.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in SA