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By Clayton Barnes
An eight-year-old Hout Bay girl on her way home from school was humiliated when two older boys forced her to undress.
The two boys had apparently attacked the girl and her friend outside Sentinel Primary School prior to the incident last week.
The girl's mother told CapeTalk her daughter was forced to undress after having her school bag taken away from her.
She said her daughter, virtually naked and hysterical, was found running home along a main road in the area after the attack.
The girl was taken home by a resident who recognised her.
The mother said that on an earlier occasion the same two boys had put a plastic bag over her daughter's head.
Provincial education spokesperson Paddy Attwell on Saturday condemned the incident, saying the attack would be investigated at "the highest level".
He said, however, that the girl's mother had not informed the school principal of the incident.
"We view this attack in an extremely serious light," said Attwell.
"It is, however, very important for the child's parents to inform the school so that the necessary steps can be taken.
"The provincial education department has a policy called 'Abuse no more' to deal with these issues.
"It deals with all types of abuse, including bullying, and should be implemented at all schools."
Attwell added that every school should have its own code of conduct that included rules on bullying.
The incident has left childcare professionals outraged. They say physical and verbal bullying takes an emotional toll on children, especially teenagers, and could even compromise their feelings of safety and self-confidence.
Childline's national co-ordinator, Joan van Niekerk, said the organisation received at least one call a day related to child bullying.
She said bullying was a "huge problem" at schools and parents and teachers had to look at ways of preventing it from an early age.
"We firmly believe all schools should have anti-bullying policies," said Van Niekerk.
"And it shouldn't just be a policy on paper; it should be implemented proactively."
Van Niekerk said although corporal punishment was banned in schools, it was still used and was largely responsible for the high incidence of bullying.
"Bullying is being institutionalised through corporal punishment," she said.
"It is important for the government to make sure corporal punishment legislation is implemented to teach children there are alternatives to using forceful and psychological tactics to instil discipline.
"Children see their teachers punishing pupils using force or other bullying tactics and they, in turn, use those same tactics on peers and those younger than they are.
"Children who are hurt by adults, often hurt other children."
Van Niekerk said teachers and parents needed to talk to their children about bullying from as early as five and six years.
"From pre-school age children need to be taught not to bully others," she said.
"If we can start implementing this, then society as a whole will improve. Bullying is part and parcel of the high levels of crime. Day after day we see police officers beating up children and people on the streets. Those are bullying tactics that need to stop.
"They will only be stopped if we address this problem and work on solutions together."
In a statement on child bullying, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group said it was important for parents and other adults to provide valuable emotional support, discuss the importance of respecting differences in themselves and others, and recognise when their children are having difficulty coping with issues at school.
The statement said children are faced with teasing and bullying on a daily basis.