National Child Protection Week in South Africa is from May 30 to June 6, and this year’s theme is “Let us all protect children during Covid-19 and beyond”.
National Child Protection Week in South Africa is from May 30 to June 6, and this year’s theme is “Let us all protect children during Covid-19 and beyond”.

Child Protection Week: Thari programme highlights bullying in schools

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Jun 2, 2021

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Durban - South Africa's Constitution highlights the importance of children's rights, equality, and dignity, and Child Protection Week aims to raise awareness about children's rights and how to tackle the issues that infringe those rights.

National Child Protection Week is from May 30 to June 6 to raise awareness of children’s rights according to the Constitution.

This year’s theme is “Let us all protect children during Covid-19 and beyond”.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has significantly impacted children. Many have experienced significant constraints during lockdown – in their schooling, play, engagement with peers, as well as in support for psycho-social challenges.

These constraints have caused substantial anxiety and frustration, and have impeded the psychosocial well-being and development of children.

Bernice Maponyane, programme manager for the Thari programme that supports vulnerable children and women in South Africa, said this situation may exacerbate learner-on-learner bullying and violence in South Africa.

“South Africa has reported many serious incidents of bullying of learners recently. The recent suicide of a learner in Limpopo, following an act of bullying, has once more brought to light the problem of learner-on-learner violence in schools. Acts of learner-on-learner violence include assault, gangsterism, rape and initiation.”

Thari is a pilot programme of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation that is implemented by its partner entity, Adopt-a-School Foundation. The programme is run at eight schools in Botshabelo in the Free State and at a school in Diepsloot, Gauteng.

According to SAPS crime statistics, nine murders and 19 attempted murders were recorded between April 2019 and March 2020 due to bullying in schools. The statistics showed that 345 cases of assault intended to cause grievous bodily harm and 546 common assault cases were opened due to bullying in schools.

“These statistics are concerning. It’s widely recognised that a child's ability to learn is influenced not just by the quality of teaching and resources available but also by their health, well-being and emotional state,” adds Maponyane.

“Victims of bullying display unusual behaviours such as low self-esteem, aggression, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and increased absenteeism. Their academic performance deteriorates as a result. Bullying causes physical, mental and emotional trauma in a learner that may remain with them for life if not addressed.”

She calls for the scale-up of effective interventions like the Thari programme to address the root causes of bullying and learner violence.

“Schools cannot do it on their own. Parents, learners, non-governmental organisations, government departments and the broader community should come together to discuss the causes of violent acts in schools.”

Maponyane adds that learners who bully their peers are vulnerable and at high risk themselves. These children are often victims of abuse and exploitation at school, home or in their communities. They react by displaying antisocial behaviours such as being disruptive in class, violent towards learners and educators, and bullying other learners.

“A holistic approach is needed to support both the victim of bullying and the perpetrator,” Maponyane said. “In this way, we will be protecting both from harm and future negative impact.”

The Department of Basic Education has also partnered with sister departments, social partners, and key stakeholders to roll out its school violence and bullying prevention initiative at Tshepana Primary School in Orange Farm.

The department has developed a National School Safety Framework. The strategy is designed to guide the way national and provincial education departments should structure efforts to address violence like bullying in schools.

The framework identifies several acts of violence in schools, including cyberbullying, homophobia, xenophobia, gang violence, and sexual and gender-based violence.

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