Mental health: Smartphones – new legislation fights cyberbullying

Online abuse is a reality in a world that has gone digital. Cyberbullying happens to young and old, but it is especially harmful for children’s mental and emotional wellbeing. The most recent international report released by Sapien Labs reported that it seems that the younger a child is given a smartphone, the greater is the chance that she will face mental issues as a young adult.  

“Children are not equipped and trained to react online in an acceptable manner with possible negative consequences, because their brain has not developed to such an extent to be able to deal with incidents of cyberbullying, for example posting offensive images or comments on social media that affect the child’s dignity,” says Dr Marlena Kruger, digital wellness expert.

“South Africa, as the most internet-addicted country, has not had any legislation to deal with cyberbullying until recently. The Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020 brings our country’s cybersecurity laws in line with international standards.”

In terms of this act, victims can obtain a protection order, and report incidences of cyberbullying, including crimen injura, sexual exploitation and grooming, and criminal defamation.  

Crimes associated with cyberbullying include electronic messages or social media posts towards a person that incite or threaten that person with violence or damage to his/her property; and the disclosure of intimate images of an identifiable person without his/her consent or link an identifiable person to such an image in the description of a data message. Intimate images refer to nude images, images of a person’s private parts (even if that person is wearing clothes), or even edited images where a person is identifiable’.  

When it comes to children, the cybercrimes will also form part of the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, which regulates how children will be dealt with when they are accused of committing crimes and what consequences they will face. Imprisonment may be imposed for children between the ages of 12 and 18, but only as a last resort and for the shortest period possible.

It is also important to note that if the bully is a child, different criminal procedures will be followed under the Child Justice Act. If the bully is younger than 10 years old, for example, they do not have criminal capacity and cannot be found guilty of a criminal offence. But it does not mean they do not have to face the consequences of what they have done. However, this does not mean that s/he will not face the consequences of his/her actions, for example, the bully may be referred to counselling.

“At the TechnoLife Wise Foundation, we are delighted about this legislation. However, we are still of the opinion that children should not have access to devices in the first instance. The age for children to have a Facebook profile is 13 and use Whatsapp is 16. If they are not on social media, there won’t be any cyberbullying happening.”

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