Bullying is rife at schools

She had her head covered in plastic, was told to steal money from home and was stabbed with a sharp pencil for failing to bring money to her tormentors.

All of this happened to an 11-year-old Grade 5 pupil who has been a victim of school bullying since she began attending Floors North Primary School in Kimberley, Northern Cape

And now the mother of the pupil wants her child to be moved to another school before something more drastic happens.

On November 9, the mother hand-delivered a letter to the Frances Baard education district asking that her child be moved to another school for her safety.

According to the results of a 2012 National School Violence Study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, at least 13% of the 5939 pupils who were interviewed reported being bullied at school.

For the Kimberley pupil, her woes started last year when she moved from a boarding school in North West to her current school.

Her mother told Sowetan that after the first few weeks at the new school, the girl started refusing to go to school, but her mother "brushed it off" and did not think anything of it.

The mother said she became alarmed when she noticed that her child was stealing money from home.

"She stole R300 and I went to her school to ask if she had brought it to school, but I was told by her teachers that she always carries a lot of money to school and would say that she got it from me or her dad. I was shocked because the school did not tell me about this," said the mother.

"When I confronted her she said she stole it to 'buy' friends to protect her from her bullies, who demanded that she brings R20 or R30 for them. She told me that in one incident when she did not bring the money, one of her bullies stabbed her with a sharp pencil and in another incident they cut her hair off."

The mother said her daughter told her that she was scared to report the incidents to teachers because even when she did nothing happened.

She said an incident that happened in September prompted her to take matters into her own hands, and that's when she decided to write to the department asking for help.

"She told me that one of her bullies covered her head with a plastic bag. She told her teachers but they did nothing. I asked her teacher [about the incident] and she dismissively said, 'oh, that'.

"I realised that she did not take it seriously, and the incident did not even reach the principal," said the concerned mother.

She described her child before being bullied as happy, an extrovert and a person who spoke her mind. However, she said, the girl has since become reserved and was afraid to stand up for herself.

"I feel like I'm losing my child and there is nothing I can do," said the mother.

However, spokesman for the Northern Cape department of education Geoffrey van der Merwe refuted claims of bullying at the school.

"I can confirm, reliably so, that no form of bullying was reported at Floors North Primary School lately.

"Therefore, the information supplied to Sowetan is misleading and incorrect, aimed at misinforming the public on the situation in our schools," he said.

Van der Merwe also said the department had not received a letter from the mother of the child.

He did not even indicate if the school would investigate the allegations of bullying at the school or not. 

Effects of bullies last for years

As if it was not enough for the mother of the 11-year-old pupil to learn that her child was being bullied at school, she also discovered through her daughter's drawings that teachers were also hitting pupils.

On a piece of paper the pupil drew a picture of a teacher holding a stick and a little girl standing in front of the teacher with tears streaming down her face and stabbing herself with a knife.

In the drawing, the pupil wrote: "I love maths but it has its own problems and the teachers are hitting us and it is so sad. I get angry and after hitting us I feel like I want to kill myself."

She further wrote that she did not feel safe.

In another bubble the pupil wrote: "I love the teachers but they make me hate them and they make me angry and one day I will fight for myself and kill them. I'm so sorry God for this."

The mother said she was shocked when she saw the piece of paper that her child had left on top of a bed.

"It saddens me to see my child going through this. I feel like I failed my child as a parent by taking her to that school," she said.

Education psychologist Professor Kobus Maree from the University of Pretoria said bullying had lasting effects. He said victims can have feelings of anxiety, depression, feel worthless and live in constant fear.

"I have been in the profession for 35 years and have seen victims of bullying 30 years down [the line] still dealing with the trauma, still dealing with self-esteem issues decades later. It's not a joke," said Maree.

He said bullies are also going through their own emotions and they are crying for attention through their acts.