DURBAN - South Africa has the highest prevalence of cyberbullying, with a quarter of parents reporting that their child had been cyberbullied.
This is according to a 2018 Ipsos Global Advisor study conducted in 28 countries.
Rianette Leibowitz, an expert on cyberbullying and the founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety NPC, said: “Besides the alarming statistics, cyberbullying has been the cause of many young people going as far as taking their own lives, with the impact causing a far-reaching ripple effect.”
The findings from another survey conducted by 1st for Women reinforces the magnitude of this growing problem, with 64% of the 4000 participants believing that children were most at risk.
The extent of cyberbullying in South Africa has prompted the women-centric insurer to launch the first cyberbullying insurance product in South Africa, which addresses the financial and legal burden of the phenomenon.
“The costs of addressing cyberbullying can be astronomical, with lawyers charging around R3000 an hour for consultations alone.
"Also, in many instances legal intervention is needed to put a stop to the bullying and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Casey Rousseau from 1st for Women.
A 13-year-old Pretoria girl who committed suicide after allegedly being bullied on WhatsApp was buried at the weekend.
Colleen Strauss, the chief executive of the Sinoville Crisis Centre in Pretoria, said the girl had been extremely traumatised by the alleged bullying, and cautioned that children who complained about bullying should never be ignored.
“I think the big problem is people are not facing the person. It’s easier behind the screen to send insulting messages than to do it in person,” she said.
"There is no control measure if parents are not actively involved.”
Strauss said parents should talk to their children if they noticed behavioural changes, a drop in marks at school and less involvement in family activities.
“Parents should actively listen and go to the school to see what procedures should be followed.”
Earlier this month on Safer Internet Day, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) called for concerted action to be taken to tackle and prevent online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment against children and young people.
“We’ve heard from children and young people from around the globe and what they are saying is clear: the internet has become a kindness desert,” said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.
The organisation said cyberbullying can cause profound harm as it can quickly reach a wide audience, and can remain accessible online indefinitely, virtually “following” its victims online for life.
“Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the creation of the world wide web, it is time for governments, families, academia and the private sector to put children and young people at the centre of digital policies,” said Fore.