A report compiled by Geu Lazarus and Juan Evelyn Mule, AFF-South Sudan fellows.
Physical bullying is defined as the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another individual physically, mentally, or emotionally, while cyberbullying is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages or images of an intimidating or threatening nature. These can be through posting other people’s photos on social media in order to hurt them or making hurtful comments on other people’s posts.
According to Comparitech, (Sam Cook) a data journalist, privacy advocate and cord-cutting expert, Cyberbullying is on the rise worldwide. From 2018-2021, the global statistic has been increasing rapidly. Based on the research that Comparitech did on 20,793 with parents between March and April 2018, especially among adults aged 18-64, some countries have responded and most are aware about cyberbullying with India toping the index while Europe and other Americans have noticed the cases of their children being bullied.
In regard to the East African region, a 2017 research conducted by Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health in public secondary in Nairobi, Kenya stated that, between 63.2% (640) and 81.8% (828) of students reported various types of bullying, both direct and indirect, with significant variations found for sex, age, class and year of study, whether in day or boarding school. Being bullied was significantly associated with becoming a bully, in turn.
In 2020, Plan International launched the #FreeToBeOnline campaign to protect girls and women. According to a survey under the campaign, 14 thousand girls from 22 countries, including South Sudan, attested to being physically threatened, racially abused, sexually harassed and abused online.
Various researches states that cyberbullying maybe a contributing fact to suicide surge amongst youth today. But for South Sudan, the young generation, engaged both online and offline might be dying in silence without speaking out.
South Sudan Safety Comm project was recently established after many online users expressed pitiful stories to #defyhatenow over their bullying related experiences. Currently, There are no statistics regarding South Sudan’s physical and cyber bullying, according to police authorities.
Experience from a victim
Agotich Alier Ajak is a second-year student of Law at the University of Juba who has undergone both physical and cyber bullying.
Years ago, Agotich was involved in a fatal accident that left her disabled. This, she says, has given bullies a chance to torment her – a scenario that has left her mentally affected negatively.
“On a certain particular day when I was at Juba town, a young boy laughed at me right in my face, it became more painful when all the elders who saw him laugh at me burst into laughter in support of him” Agotich painfully narrated.
She added that some people have condemned her for her disability calling her names and laughing at her, saying that she will not get married since she uses crutches for support.
She stressed that she has been bullied both physically and online.
What South Sudan’s laws say about physical and cyber bullying?
According to Wani Michael, a member of the Constitutional Amendment Committee, South Sudan Constitution as amended in 2011 does not have a specific law on bullying but it does have such crimes constituted in some laws.
“There are no bills currently on cyber bullying and cyber-crimes. However, the penal code has a general outlook that tackles the crimes and there are penalties for such crimes” Wani elaborated.
For his part, Maj. General Daniel Justin, the national police spokesperson confirmed that there are a number of cyberbullying related cases across the country. He, however, didn’t provide data.
“Cyber-crimes and physical bullying practices are punishable by law. The issue is people do not report these issues to the police. I urge the public to report such cybercrimes to the police for further investigations, in order to hold those people accountable.
“We as police are working hand in hand with civil society and the Interpol in order to curb cyber and physical bullying so as to help combat the spread of fake news and incitement of violence to the public” said Justin.
What experts say about physical and cyber bullying?
According to Ajang R. Nyibol, a mental health expert, both physical and cyber bullying cause low self-esteem.
Nyibol stressed that the occurrences can eventually cause depression and anxiety to those affected, “a person that is bullied ends up feeling not good enough. This may lead to suicidal thoughts and actions if not helped in time”.
Meanwhile, human Rights activist – Reech Malual who heads the Screen of Rights organization is among the few condemning the misuse of social media by South Sudanese.
Reech urged South Sudanese to avoid using social media for harassment and intimidation of different genders, “the negative online sentiments discourage female professionals from accepting jobs in public offices in fear of being accused of using sexual favors”.
What needs to be done/way forward
As far back as 2018, Reech has been urging the government to enact a cyber-bullying law, arguing that it will help track and curb cyber and physical bullying since the perpetrators can be easily followed up and punished as the law requires.
“The government has a role to be able to have a cyber-law, to be able to control the content of what is being published on facebook” he said.
It is on record that many South Sudanese have experienced both cyber and physical bullying in and outside South Sudan.
Western countries consider bullying or cyberbullying a criminal act which may be addressed in a single law or may be addressed in multiple laws. African countries like South Sudan would benefit from creating similar laws since Cyber-bullying is categorized under Harassment, Defamation, and or Publishing intimate images without consent of the source.
In an exclusive interview with 211 Check last month, Napoleon Adok – National Communication Authority Director General said South Sudan has embarked on the drafting and enactment of Cyber Crime Law.