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What adults should know about Sexting and Cyberbullying when it comes to their children
The past 40 years in South Africa have seen significant changes in the different mediums of communication and communication patterns. Television, internet, cellular phones. With each has also been added the social interaction phenomena that has changed the world as we know it. Reality television, Facebook, Twitter, MXit, SMS and Instant Messaging. The other area in our country that has changed hand in hand with all the above mentioned is the law.
Advances in technology have resulted in instances of undesirable communication between the children using this technology. Cyber bullying and sexting are two of these relatively new and unacceptable behaviours currently occurring in the mobile school yard.
Cyber bullying is a new way of committing an age old crime – bullying. Sexting however is new and can be described as the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones, but can include the transfer of these images or messages over email or even social media platforms.
- 46.8% of young people between ages 12 – 24years had experienced some form of cyber bullying;
- 69.7% of respondents (as above) who admitted to have bullied others, have themselves been bullied;
- 21.46% of high school pupils had been approached with ‘unwanted talk about sex’;
- 17.79% said they had received e-mails or instant messages with advertisements or links to ‘X-rated’ websites;;
- 16.95% had opened messages or links with pictures of naked people or people having sex;
- 16.60% had been asked for sexual information about themselves;
- 14.27% were worried or felt threatened by online harassment;
- 9.90% said they had been asked to ‘do something sexual’;
- Male adolescents were more likely to engage in unsafe online activities.
From these statistics it is clear that our children are facing very real threats in their everyday existence. As parents we need to make sure that our childrens exposure to these threats are limited if not eliminated.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” More recently the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2011 elaborated on Article 19 to include “psychological bullying and hazing by adults and other children, as well as acts committed via information and communication technologies (ICT), such as mobile phones and the internet (referred to as ‘cyber bullying’).”
Because these crimes are fairly new and most countries do not have specific legislation concerning it, each country must make do with the current legislation in place. According to the CJCP, offenders of cyber bullying can be criminally charged with the following criminal offences:
- Crimen iniuria - unlawful, intentional and serious violation of the dignity or privacy of another person. It must be clear that the victim is aware of the perpetrator’s offending behaviour, and the victim must feel degraded or humiliated by it. Perpetrators of acts of cyber bullying which violate the dignity of another person and meet the other requirements of this criminal offence may therefore be charged with crimen iniuria.
- Assault – (with reference to cyber bullying) the perpetrator threatens the victim with personal violence and this conduct inspires fear or a belief in the victim that such personal violence is to take place
- Extortion – (with reference to cyber bullying) Where a person intentionally and unlawfully threatens to electronically distribute information or compromising images about another person unless the victim hand the perpetrator some advantage.
- Criminal Defamation – It is the unlawful and intentional publication (written or verbal) of a matter concerning another, which tends to seriously injure his or her reputation and which has come to the notice of someone other than the victim. (with reference to cyber bullying) Defamatory remarks in chat rooms, on social networking sites, e-mails, text messages or instant messages to third parties are some of the methods of committing cyber bullying.
Also in South Africa, offenders of cyber bullying can be criminally charged by the following civil law responses:
- Order to keep the peace
- Interdict and defamation claim
NOTE: Both require an application in the High Court, and this would usually mean that the victim would have to appoint a legal representative, which may be very costly.
According to the Centre of Justice and Crime Prevention’s (CJCP) paper on Legal Responses to Cyber Bullying and Sexting in South Africa “children have the constitutional right to privacy, which includes the privacy of their communication. They also have the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media, and the freedom to receive or impart information and ideas.” It is thus important to know that legal responses to sexting among children must take these constitutional rights into consideration.
South Africa does not have any legislation dealing specifically with sexting between children. Any legal response will fall, if applicable, within the ambit of child pornography, which is prohibited in terms of the Films and Publications Act, 1996 (Act 65 of 1996), the Films and Publications Amendment Act, 2009 (Act 3 of 2009) and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 (Act 32 of 2007). Children are however protected from severe consequences (actually written with adults in mind) by The Child Justice Act, 2008 (Act 75 of 2008)
The biggest question raised among parents is therefore: What can I do to help my child? Here are some tips:
- Invest in your relationship with your child so that there can be open and honest communication at any time. Openly discuss the definition, ethics, consequences and temptations where sexting and cyber bullying are concerned.
- Communicate to your child that you respect their privacy, but that as their parent you have the right and responsibility to protect and to govern them as you see fit. Set boundaries and rules, but never threaten total removal or disconnection of technology. Rather work together on ways to secure these connections and thereby to protect your child.
- Take control of your own emotions. Despite a parent’s anger, fear, concern (or all of the above), remember that you will need to communicate in order to address the issue. If your child feels further threatened or isolated, they may be much less likely to share more details about the situation out of fear of further punishment;
- If the situation presents a potential threat to the safety and health of anyone involved, contact the appropriate law enforcement officials in your area. If the nature of the threat is less severe, help your child to create a network of support - key advisors, family members, friends, coaches, teachers, etc. might be a good place to start.