Tech & Crime: Suicide now associated with cyber-bullying

Suicide now associated with cyber-bullying

Worldwide suicide has been associated with cyber-bullying among school children in several recent cases, a phenomenon that has been newly termed cyber-bullicide.

With access to modern technology and the internet, Zimbabweans now have access to a powerful tool for sharing information and ideas with friends and family all over the world.

Unfortunately, we have individuals that use this tool to bully, harass, and intimidate others.

Using the internet in this way violates our national laws and the Data Protection Act signed into law in 2021 under section 164B in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act criminalises cyberbullying and harassment.

It states that any person who unlawfully and intentionally, by means of a computer or information system, generates and sends any message to another person, or posts on any material whatsoever on any electronic medium accessible by any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, threaten, bully or cause substantial emotional distress, or to degrade, humiliate or demean the person of another or to encourage a person to harm himself or herself, shall be guilty of a criminal offence.

This offence carries a fine not exceeding level 10 as well as imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years or both.

Our schools are the epi-centres of cyber bullying yet most schools in Zimbabwe do not have the right structures to prevent, protect, monitor, educate and discipline cyber-bullies.

Cyber-bullying in schools is a serious issue that can have a significant impact on children's mental health, self-esteem, and academic performance and schools need to have solutions to deal with child cyber-bullying which is now prevalent in some schools.

Schools need to take a leading role in educating children and parents about the dangers of cyber-bullying, the importance of respecting others online, and the consequences of cyber-bullying.

This can be done through community meetings, workshops, seminars, and other awareness programs.

They also need to establish clear policies which is a school policy document to be signed by both students and parents against cyber-bullying and ensure that students are aware of the consequences of engaging in such behavior.

These policies should be included in school handbooks, constantly referred to and discussed in classroom settings.

Schools should have systems that monitor, detect cyber-bullying activities and encourage students to report incidents of cyber-bullying.

This will help school administrators take appropriate action against the perpetrators and provide support to the victims.

They need to provide counselling and support services to children that would have been victims of cyber-bullying. This can help them cope with the emotional impact of the experience and develop strategies to deal with future incidents.

It is important that schools work together with parents to address cyber-bullying.

Parents should be encouraged to monitor their children's online activity and report any incidents of cyber-bullying to school authorities.

Schools should promote positive online behaviour among students, such as encouraging them to use social media responsibly, to be respectful of others online, and to use the internet to enhance their learning.

Overall, the key is to create a safe and supportive environment in which children feel comfortable reporting cyber-bullying incidents and seeking help when needed.

How parents can fight cyberbullying

Parents play a crucial role in preventing and addressing cyber-bullying.

Parents should educate themselves and their children about cyber-bullying, including what it is, how to recognize it, and how to respond to it.

This can involve talking openly and honestly with their children about the risks associated with using social media and other online platforms.

Parents should maintain open lines of communication with their children and let them know that they can come to them if they are experiencing cyber-bullying. Parents should provide emotional support and help their children develop coping strategies to deal with cyber-bullying.

They have to model positive online behaviour and encourage their children to do the same. This can involve being kind and respectful online, avoiding cyber-bullying, and reporting incidents of cyber-bullying to the appropriate authorities.

If a parent becomes aware that their child is engaging in cyber-bullying, they should take immediate action to stop the behavior and intervene to prevent it from continuing.

This may involve reporting the incident to school officials, law enforcement, or social media companies, depending on the severity of the behavior.

Overall, parents play a critical role in preventing and addressing cyber-bullying. By educating themselves and their children, monitoring their online activity, providing support and communication, modelling positive online behaviour, and taking action when necessary, parents can help to create a safer and more positive online environment for their children.

Role of government

Cyber-bullying is a serious issue that affects many children, and governments around the world have taken steps to address it.

The Government of Zimbabwe has passed laws that specifically addresses cyber-bullying and make it a criminal offense. Data Protection under section 164B in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act criminalises cyber-bullying and harassment.

The State should be investing in education and awareness programs aimed at preventing cyber-bullying. These programs should be designed to teach children and parents about the dangers of cyber-bullying, how to recognise it, and how to respond to it.

Also, the government and the private sector should be funding research into cyber-bullying to help the nation to better understand the extent of the problem and to develop effective strategies for preventing it.

Internationally, governments are partnering with technology companies to develop tools and resources to help prevent cyber-bullying.

For example, some governments have worked with social media companies to develop reporting tools and other features that make it easier to report cyber-bullying incidents. This is a route the government of Zimbabwe should take.

Zimbabwe's government should provide support and resources for victims of cyber-bullying.

This may include counselling services, legal assistance, and other forms of support.

It should adopt working structures with law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of cyber-bullying. This may involve working with social media companies to identify perpetrators and providing training for law enforcement officers to help them better understand and respond to cyber-bullying cases.

Overall, the government is taking a multi-faceted approach to addressing child cyber-bullying, which includes legislation, education and awareness, research, technology partnerships, victim support, and law enforcement.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults in the Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's young adolescents are spending most of their time online than ever before.

It is important that parents/guardians, educators and primary care providers to screen for cyber-bullying routinely in the same way that they might screen for other suicide risk factors like depression.

Parents/guardians, educators and primary care provider should also be aware of the risk factor and help protect today's youths.

  • Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments (Pvt) Ltd. He is the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.

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