School is supposed to be a great place for children to acquire knowledge, socialise and build self-esteem. But for 10-year-old Joshua Kabwakaganda (not real name), school is a place of terror.
Each morning, he appears afraid to go to his new school, complaining of unending headaches or stomach pains. He sometimes escapes from school citing sickness or deceives his parents that teachers have sent them back home because they are going to attend an imaginary burial.
However, when he escaped from school right at the beginning of the second term, his parents decided to take him for a medical checkup. The doctor discovered that he was not sick but was instead experiencing physical and emotional torture at school. Investigations revealed that three of his classmates had been eating his packed lunch and beating him whenever he failed to surrender it. Cases like Kabwakaganda’s are not unusual in schools.
Lack of skills
According to Mr Erisam Kanyerezi, the Career Guidance teacher at Kings College, Budo bullying is most common at the beginning of the school year when newcomers have reported. “Bullying is a human weakness which is most common in children who lack interpersonal skills. But at Budo, we rarely experience such cases given our strict rules and regulations,” he says Mr Kanyerezi says the vice can be eliminated if school managers organise regular guidance and counseling sessions and house meetings for students. “These are good platforms where students stand firm and report such cases,” he told Education Guide.
He says students who bully their colleagues are mostly those who lack self-esteem. “They are normally tiny boys and girls who were victims before and in order to rest the case, they end up revenging on the new comers,” he says. But Mr Richard Kigenyi , the head teacher Green Valley SS, Kayunga insists that the habit of bullying can occur any time of the school year if continuing students spot that there are newcomers in the school.
He says some victims don’t report incidents of bullying because they feel embarrassed or humiliated. “We encourage them to report such cases although they are not common. And whoever is caught bullying, is indefinitely expelled from school,” he says.
Sign of immitation
Psychologists say bullying could happen out of imitation. Ms Annet Ssamula, a child counselor and psychologist at Outreach Mbuya HIV/Aids Initiative, says some children do it due to adolescence. “Adolescence is a very challenging stage and every child goes through it differently. But those who bully find themselves feeling superior and want to assume power over others,” she says. “But we need to handle bullies with care and counsel them. We have seen many abandon the practice and become good people,” he says. Rev. Diana Nkesiga, the vicar of All Saints Church-Nakasero, says bullying has taken root in many secondary schools and has affected the performance of many students. She says the Church is currently embarking on a programme to fight the vice in schools.
Mr Hamza Kimuli, a former student of Masaka SS says pouring cold water and urine on his bed were the most common forms of bullying he experienced. “At times you could emerge from preps and find the bed wet. And if you are brave (to raisquestions), they would cane you late in the night,” says Mr Kimuli, who is now a lawyer in town. Other common forms of bullying include ordering juniors to wash clothes and asking them to bring food from the kitchen. Mr Bonaventure Kawere,a former student of St Henry’s College ,Kitovu, says it is all about getting even. “It is all about revenge. If you’re bullied in Form One, you retaliate by bullying newcomers when you join Form 2,” he said.
According to a 2005 report titled Violence against Children: the Voices of Ugandan Children and Adults, over 60 percent of children in Ugandan schools have been subjected to bullying. The report, compiled by Raising Voices Uganda, says more than 98 per cent of children reported experiencing physical or emotional violence. Another 75.8 per cent reported experiencing sexual violence, and 74.4 percent reported experiencing economic violence. For each form of violence, a significant percentage of children reported experiencing the violence at least once a week.
Older students and teachers were named most frequently.
While almost all children experienced common forms of violence ( caning and slapping), the predominant manifestation of the violence depended on the sex, age, and social status of the child. For example, of all the children interviewed in this study, older boys were more likely to experience severe physical violence, and older girls were more likely to experience sexual violence. The report states that a considerable number of children shared transitional thoughts of suicide and revenge, or admitted to displacing their anger on younger children. Many children reported that their experiences of violence shaped their beliefs about themselves and some children discussed how experiencing violence undermined their trust in adults and confidence in them.
In neigbouring Kenya, the situation is no different. A recent survey in Nairobi public schools, indicates that of the 1,000 students interviewed, 81.8 percent reported various types of bullying. There are signs and symptoms a parent can spot to know that his/her child is a victim of bullying.
Experts say a child who is a victim of bullying often comes home in disarray; sometimes with torn clothes or damaged books. It also happens when children come home with cuts and scratches, but can’t give a logical explanation for how they got them. Other signs include refusal to go to school in the morning, stomach complains, bad dreams and social isolation. In the worst case scenario, victims of bullying show unexpected mood shifts, irritability, and sudden outbursts of temper. The most frequent outcome of all this, is loss of interest in work and a plummeting of school grades.
How to help victims
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, talk to them about school. See if they become agitated or if they try to change the subject. Let them know that you are there to help them. Empower your child to talk to their teacher or the school principal about the bullying. If your child talks to the teacher and principal but the bullying does not stop, it’s time for you to take action. Do not treat bullying as a natural part of growing up or believe that it will all work itself out eventually. Bullying is a serious situation and the helplessness it engenders even causes some children to resort to extreme measures as suicide. Stay actively involved with your child’s school and constantly talk to your child. If you notice signs of depression, seek out the services of a counselor or therapist.