Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
A YEAR after a pupil at Chengelo School was beaten by schoolmates over a girl, history has repeated itself, this time in a Government boarding school in the heart of the capital, Lusaka.
The attackers, in this incident, are prefects, or captains as they are called at their secondary school, who have made bullying of fellow pupils a normal way of handling disciplinary cases.
Information reaching me indicates that the prefects are meting out capital punishment against their victims, in form of cleaning the toilets and school premises, and in other cases physically beating their erring friends.
A number of boys and girls have fallen victim to bullying by their captains at the esteemed secondary school that admits both girls and boys.
The school authorities are reportedly aware about the brutality against defenceless pupils by their prefects because some pupils and parents have complained about it.
However, victims say the school administration has not decisively dealt with the problem as bully prefects seem to wield more authority than the teachers.
In the latest incident, a 15-year-old boy was beaten black and blue by a group of prefects (boys) for an offence they call coupling, after he was found talking to a girl in the night.
Investigations by the school authorities have found that the victim was dating a girl that one of the male prefects was interested in, hence his being assaulted.
The boy, who sustained a swollen face and general body pains, had to run away from school at almost midnight two weeks ago to free himself from the wrath of the prefects.
A member of staff at the school shared the story with me because he is not satisfied with the way the prefects have allegedly been ‘given’ the leeway to harass pupils. He fears that if left unchecked, the tyrant boys and girls could ruin the good reputation of the esteemed school.
He said the school administration has not explicitly given the captains power to enforce the outlawed capital punishment, but seem not to have ‘teeth’ to stop them.
A number of pupils who have been victims of capital punishment at the hands of the captains suffer quietly because, according to one of the pupils, “at our school, it’s the captains that ran the school”.
When a pupil errs, the captains are required to write a report to the school administration who should then decide what course of action to take.
However, some defiant captains have perpetuated the culture of bullying and punishing fellow pupils with impunity.
A teacher said bullying in both government and private boarding schools is a real problem and challenged the media to investigate it.
At another school where this particular teacher had been years back, prefects bullied their victims by soliciting gifts, including food, and in certain instances, they meted out corporal punishment.
He said bullying in boarding schools is an age-old problem, but it has now taken a new twist, from the mockery of newcomers (grades 8 and 10) to physical assault, use of threats and coercing of victims to pay in kind to buy their freedom.
The teacher noted that bullying has a negative effect on the academic performance of victims and it is high time boarding schools took decisive action against it, otherwise a victim may end up dead one day.
He cited the case in point at his school where a boy ran away from his tormentors after 23:00 hours as one that could have ended tragically if luck wasn’t on his side.
He said in schools providing co-education, it’s common for bullies to torment their perceived rivals over a girl or boy they fancy.
This is exactly what happened at Chengelo School when a boy was beaten and abused verbally by fellow pupils in October last year for allegedly kissing a girl that one of the bullies was interested in.
Bullies also tend to create unsafe environments for girls for turning down their love proposals or opting to date a perceived rival.
Girl victims of sexual bullying will often become timid in a school environment and this may limit their free participation in extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs.
And when bullying becomes entrenched in a school environment, it creates unsafe spaces for academic achievement because some victims react by losing interest in school.
This is the reason school managers should never treat bullies with kid gloves because their actions have a negative effect on the emotional and physical well-being of victims.
Well, in the case under review, the victim provoked the wrath of prefects after he was found chatting with a girl in the night.
The prefects charged the boy for ‘coupling’ because the school forbids any form of interaction between boys and girls in the night.
Normally, the victim was supposed to be dealt with by the school administration the following day.
However, the prefects asked him to choose his punishment – to clean the toilet or to be beaten. He chose to clean the toilet but another prefect objected and decided that they needed to take a statement from him.
The victim made a written statement, of course pleading not guilty, therefore incensing the prefects who got hold of him and shaved his head by force.
The boy tried to free himself from his tormentors while pleading not guilty, and this only earned him punches and kicks all over his body.
The ‘captains’ asked the boy to apologise so that they could let him go, but he insisted that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.
The boy was compelled to say sorry after he was beaten black and blue, and at that point he was released.
However, one of the prefects who appeared more aggressive charged that they were not done with him yet.
In fear, the boy opted not to go to his hostel because he did not know what one of the captains meant by his threat.
That’s how he jumped the school wall fence and ran to Lusaka Trust Hospital and a security guard took him in.
The guard narrated that the boy was crying bitterly when he came and his face was swollen. He helped him to phone his parents and after midnight, they picked the boy and took him to an unknown hospital.
To cut the long story short, a teacher at the school says their investigations found that the victim was dating the girl he was found with. One of the ‘captains’ was also interested in the girl, and this is what earned the victim a beating that Friday night.
The teacher said the attackers, who have since been suspended for a month, went overboard because the school has not given them the authority to abuse fellow pupils.
The villains’ parents had to be summoned because the boys beat their friend so bad that the school administration had to give him leave to go and recuperate at home.
The victim has also been suspended for 10 days for endangering his life in the night by jumping the school wall fence.
In my view, though, I felt the school should have considered mitigating factors for the victim because he reacted on impulse after he had been assaulted and dehumanised by the captains.
If a child is beaten badly and one of the attackers threatens to sort him out, one is bound to over-react in the manner that the boy did.
I hope the school has a boarding master whom victims of bullying could run to in the night if need arises.
However, the school administration needs to tame their captains because bullying is degenerating to another level in some boarding schools.
School managers know about this problem, therefore they need to work at creating safe environments in their schools.
Actually, I tried to speak to the head teacher and her deputy at the affected school to find out what they are doing to stop the notorious prefects.
As expected, they referred me to the Ministry of General Education because that’s their official spokesperson.
Well, I informed the ministry about the complaint of victims at this particular school, although I could not get their reaction by press time.
I hope they will do their independent investigations in the matter and help to create a conducive learning environment for boarders at the school.
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Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA