Today, October 2, 2017 as the world celebrates the International Day of Non-Violence in commemoration of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence, The Women’s Torch would like to focus on a serious form of violence that is being perpetrated in schools and mostly goes unrecognized and unpunished.
While the purpose of the day is to focus on the principle of non-violence as a means of effecting social or political change the Women’s Torch believes that violent behaviour practiced in schools and homes leads to violent adults who will use physical violence to achieve their objectives of bringing about the change they want.
Such violence is seen all around the world when protests, marches and vigils become violent resulting in the death of both violent and non-violent protesters and in increased terrorist activity worldwide. Nowadays, there is no safe place as violent individuals and groups use violent means to get their message cross.
An important tool to bring about non-violent societies is the promotion of a culture of non-violent behaviour in schools and homes. Bullying, a form of physical or mental violence occurs daily in schools with serious consequences on the child that is being bullied. Bullying comprises the notions of “repetition, harm and unequal power” and includes a wide range of actions including name calling, false accusations to make trouble for the victim with people in authority, damaging or stealing belongings, threats and intimidation including through mobile phones and the internet. It is difficult to define and measure but it occurs nevertheless and is an issue that needs to be addressed.
In 2010, a study entitled ‘Too Often in Silence’ undertaken by UNICEF, Plan West Africa, Save the Children Sweden West Africa and ActionAid shows the prevalence of the practice in West African Schools. Children in Togo, Burkina Faso and Benin complained that they were bullied or victimised repeatedly by one or more other students.
In Ghana, 62 per cent of girls aged 11 and 12 in junior secondary schools said they had experienced bullying in school. A World Health Organization’s Global School-based Student Health Survey (2003–5) reported similar figures for boys in Ghana with around 60 per cent reporting that they had been bullied. In Benin 92 per cent of pupils reported they had experienced bullying both within their own group and from teachers and pupils
In all of the African settings where questions were asked about bullying, the Global School-based Health Survey found that both education staff and students can be responsible for psychological violence towards or bullying of students.
Many parents and teachers are oblivious to the bullying that takes place especially as in many instances the victim is too scared to report the incidence. This has resulted in many children dropping out of school, underperforming in class, developing emotional behaviours and in worst case scenarios committing suicide and/or murder. Bullying occurs with impunity in many cases as the perpetrators go unpunished.
Many victims also do not fit the description of a person who is being victimised. Recently in a school in Mali a boy who is a sports champion was being bullied by a group of boys. He never fought back, never reported the case and it was thanks to an observant teacher that the case of bullying was brought to the notice of the parents and school. The child had already started to develop anti-social behaviour at home and was being punished without his parents knowing that he was emotionally distressed.
As we try to understand the issue of bullying, several issues should be considered. These include knowing why bullying occurs, what are its effects and what measures can schools take to stop bullying?
Since many cases of bullying include violent actions intended to create fear, humiliate, denigrate or mistreat a person it can result in post-traumatic stress disorder. This is according to a study by Van der Kolk, Weisaeth, & McFarlane, 2007.
Numerous researchers, educators, and psychologists have theories about why bullying occurs. Although these groups have different ways of explaining why bullying occurs, there is always a common theme: power and control. As Wolk (2010) noted, “Bullies are about power and control, and confronting them or stepping in to stop them usurps their sense of power.”
Studies also show that a child who has been repeatedly bullied on the playground may exhibit oppositional behaviors in class or may turn in incomplete work just to ensure that she has to stay inside while others are on recess.
Unfortunately, in many instances, school officials deal with incidents of bullying much too late. By the time intervention occurs, the psychological damage and pain has become almost indelible. This damage affects not only the bully and the target(s), it also affects the bystanders.
Bullying needs to be addressed swiftly. The consequences should include recommendation for counselling for the bullies and should involve the parents of the bully. As noted earlier, many bullies have themselves faced terrible difficulties of their own. As a result of these factors, these individuals displace their pain on others.
School officials should also perform reflective interviews with bullies by placing the bully in the shoes of his victim and asking him to think about how his actions have affected the victim.
Victims must be encouraged to report the acts and actions of bullies. School leaders and/or leaders in other settings that support children should be vigilant in sending a clear message that bullying is not tolerated in their setting.