An expert roundtable has warned further criminalising bullying behaviour in schools would not address the issue and has instead urged the Government to examine other mechanisms.
The Roundtable included representatives of the youth justice sector, law enforcement, academics, mental health, education, and children’s advocacy groups, and was asked to consider whether existing criminal laws were sufficient to address bullying and whether other legislative reform options should be explored.
The Roundtable’s recommendations, released today, have endorsed taking an approach where a criminal justice response would be reserved for the most serious cases, with other matters being tackled from a social and public health perspective.
“There’s no doubt that bullying is a serious issue, and its effect on children can be both harmful and long-lasting,” Attorney-General Chapman said.
“The Roundtable was concerned with further criminalising this behaviour – beyond the laws that already exist – advising that this would pose its own risks, given a child’s ongoing behavioural and cognitive development at that stage in their life.
“This is the message that has come loud and clear from an expert group that has included representatives from SAPOL, those closely supporting families of victims of bullying and others with clear experience and knowledge in this field.
“The Roundtable notes the various criminal offences that capture some form of bullying behaviour but recommends this action should be reserved for the most serious of cases.
“For other cases, the report recommends changes to the way schools approach bullying which may require broader legislative changes to the Education Act.
Attorney-General Chapman said the Government would now consider these recommendations in forming a broader response to bullying.
“The Government is currently undertaking a broader review of our policies and procedures to develop a more effective, coordinated response to this issue,” Ms Chapman said.
“These recommendations will help inform our actions, and we will carefully consider the advice of experts in this field.”
The recommendations can be found here.