It is said that courage can be compared to fire and bullying can be compared to smoke. Bullying is a phenomenon that is elusive, conniving and hard to define properly because times change and so do means by which to inflict harm upon others.  It is thus stated that bullying behaviour is a cowardly action, in all probability caused by some or other childhood pain.

In order to remedy the problem, one has to find and treat the root.  One cannot hope to solve a problem by merely scratching the surface. In recent years, school bullying and related violence have escalated to the point where multiple reports pertaining to bullying-related incidents are published annually.

Bullying is a global phenomenon that has the potential of impacting on children, both physically and psychologically. It sometimes causes children to drop out of school and permanently damages both the psyche and education of the child. As indicated above, children are sometimes even killed in the process.

When these incidents occur at school, and a recent study revealed that a substantial amount of all bullying incidents does occur in the school context, the parties involved are often minors, and therefore a critical analysis is necessary with regard to the rights of the victim and the offender. In this context the relationship and interaction between the Protection from Harassment Act 71 of 2011, the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 and the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 call for critical analysis.

From abusive behaviour on the school playground to disrespecting classmates on social media, bullying is a widespread problem that can affect a child’s mental and emotional health.


Bullying is when a child or a group of children abuse their power to hurt others. Bullying is repeated aggressive behaviour that can be physical, verbal, or relational, in-person or online. Bullies are often relentless, bullying over and over again for long periods of time. The victim of bullying may live in constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next, what they’ll do, and how far they’ll go.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a “bully” as “a person who deliberately intimidates or persecutes those who are weaker”. Bullying is also defined as follows: A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.

This definition of bullying encompasses three main elements, namely:

(a) Bullying is a form of aggressive behaviour where the bully acts out and behaves in a negative manner.

(b) Bullying forms a behavioural pattern over time.

(c) Bullying results from a power imbalance.


 There is no single set of rules that applies to every child, as each set of circumstances differ. It is acknowledged that, because this study focuses purely on children, it is hard to delimit a single set of rules and factors, as each child is different.  However, through research, commonalities have been distilled and it is not too hard to spot a “bully in the making”.  It has been argued that bullying is a direct result of competitiveness.  More specifically, it has been noted that bullying behaviour can be attributed to frustration due to failure in school.  It is doubtful that this could be the most significant characteristic of bullying.

The causes of bullying behaviour can be broken down into two categories, namely externally influenced causes and those of internal origin.


It has to be borne in mind that bullying adversely affects not only the bully but also the victim.  Research now shows that bullying victims are more likely to manifest signs of depression than non-victims.  Both bullies and victims, however, are at a higher risk of depression than learners not involved in bullying.  The effects of bullying can be devastating, leaving the victim feeling helpless, humiliated, angry, depressed, or even suicidal.  

A direct nexus has been drawn between continuous victimisation through bullying, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide; which also places a bullying victim at a much higher risk of depression and related mental disorders than non-victims. 

There are many effects of bullying that you can look out for. They include:

  • absenteeism and a fear of attending school,
  • feelings of inferiority,
  • self-esteem problems,
  • feelings of loneliness,
  • social isolation,
  • emotional problems,
  • communication problems,
  • struggle to achieve academically,
  • some victims commit suicide,
  • rule breaking, anti-social behaviour patterns, and
  • risk of criminal behaviour later.


Support to the victims of bullying is provided through:

  • protecting them from further bullying,
  • helping them to understand the bully’s actions, which will enable them not to look for the cause of the bully’s behaviour in themselves,
  • involving them in educational games of therapy through which they can give expression to their feelings through drawing, writing, and drama,
  • involving them in a support group consisting of other victims, and
  • linking them with a different group of friends who will act supportively.

Our training  module on dealing with bullying will assist both social service professionals and parents to better understand bullying and to develop the skills to effectively deal with it.

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For any assistance with bullying matters, please contact Melanie v Aswegen (+27 82 783 1316)

Written by: Melanie v Aswegen (B.Iuris, LLB)

Edited by: Jessica Redelinghuys (Mcom I/O Psyc)

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