Bullying can be devastating for your child’s confidence and self-esteem, especially in the pre-school and early primary years.  Providing support for a child that is being bullied at school is very important. Both home and school need to provide such support.

Bullying among minor children (under the age of 10) is becoming a larger problem in our schools. It is important to know when it’s time to take legal action against bullying. 

Read our article about understanding children’s behaviour to get perspective on bullying.

Age and the law

The challenge centres around age of the child committing the offence – specifically the bully. Usually, the Child Justice Act should be followed when a minor child (under the age of 18) has allegedly committed a crime. But the Act is actually only applicable to children between the ages of 10 and 18.

Section 9 of the Child Justice Act provides remedies for police officials who believe that a child (under the age of 10) has allegedly committed a criminal offence. The steps to be taken are inter alia to refer the matter to a children’s court. 

For more about cyberbullying and the law, read here

Solving the problem

Where does this then leave the parents? Guidance from the Children’s Court focuses on two routes for a resolution. The first concentrates on the school. Usually, schools make provisions for bullying and there are disciplinary steps in place.

According to The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (SASA), governing bodies of public schools must adopt a code of conduct for the learners. This must include a bullying policy, that clearly states that:

  • The parents of the bully are informed, and that feedback must be received from those parents;
  • The bully will be assessed by a social worker or psychologist to determine whether there are any psychological problems and/or defects;
  • The school must follow and document any reasonable actions taken against the bully; and
  • Steps will be taken to ensure the victim is safe from the bully and will not be harmed again.

Plan B

 If the bullying at preschool doesn’t stop, it’s still safest to work through the school than to take matters into your own hands. Take these steps if you first meeting with the teacher does not resolve the problem. 

  • Keep a record of what happens and when. If the bullying involves physical harm or damage to your child’s property, take photos.
  • Write a letter to the school saying that the bullying has not stopped. Ask for a written response with details of the steps taken.
  • The school must accept accountability and take the necessary steps to protect and keep pupils safe. If the school cannot provide sufficient feedback, you may appoint a social worker to investigate. You do not need a court order to do this. 
  • If the school fails to protect the victim, you can contact the parents of the bully to discuss the matter. In cases where there is a long history of bullying, your family lawyer should contact the parents on your behalf.

Legal advice 

If the situation still does not improve (even after the social worker has been involved) you may need to approach the Children’s Court to declare the bully as “a child in need of care and protection.” The only option may be to take legal action to stop the bullying. 

The court will appoint a social worker to investigate the minor child’s environment. The outcome could be to remove the child. However, removing a bully from his or her parents could have far reaching and even more damaging consequences. Consult an experienced family law attorney who can help facilitate an amicable solution.  Taking legal action against bullying should be your last and considered resort. 

Read more on how to raise your children to be kinder digital citizens

Contributed by Isabel Pretorius – Family Law Attorney, Associate at Barnard Incorporated Attorneys