'Society of sissies'
AS THE Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) makes recommendations for the Parliament to include provisions in the Offences Against the Person Act to criminalise cyberbullying, one lawmaker is resisting the proposal saying "we have to be careful we don't use laws to develop a society of sissies".
Delroy Chuck, member of a joint select committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act, told his colleagues on Wednesday that ragging and name calling in school occur as part of the growing-up process.
He said using words by themselves ought not be considered a criminal assault generally, and, therefore, to make cyberbullying an offence could amount to overtaking the common law.
"It would be very sad if a 15-year-old harasses another 15-year-old and the person is charged for a criminal offence. This is a part of growing up," he insisted.
Chuck said it would be unnecessary for someone who is being called a nickname or certain remarks made about him to tell the police or the headmaster that he is being bullied.
However, Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said while she had no concrete evidence of cyberbullying locally, to share with the committee, there have been reports coming out of high schools that older boys are bullying and sexually harassing first formers.
She told the committee that the OCA has also received reports of children in grade one being constantly deprived of their lunch money because there is a bully whose father is a don and the victim has to hand his money over.
On the question of cyberbullying, Gordon Harrison said the sending of extreme text messages, over an extended period, that are particularly cruel and have had a serious effect on the victim should constitute an offence.
She suggested a tiered system of dealing with cyberbullying with the more egregious cases attracting tougher penalties.
In his comments, committee chairman Senator Mark Golding said cyberbullying is a phenomenon that is growing around the world and he would be surprised if Jamaica was immune from it.
Indicating that cyberbullying has contributed to suicides in other jurisdictions, Golding suggested that the issue could not be brushed aside.
Golding said that while he would not recommend that persons be sent to prison for cyberbullying, the court could make orders prohibiting the offender's access to the Internet or imposing compensation orders on the person convicted of the proposed offence.
Committee member Senator Lambert Brown said he wanted laws to be crafted to address the Jamaican experience, adding that ?we should avoid cutting and pasting (legislation) from the United States?.
"I grow up knowing that one of the best ways to avoid nicknames is just to ignore it or else it's going to stick with you for life," Brown said.
"I grew up with a daughter which I never even touch ..., never even hug ... until she became an adult enuh, because I just fear that what happens abroad will happen here. I might have been insecure, but guess what, we love each other."
Cyberbullying is defined as the use of information technology to repeatedly harm or harass other persons in a deliberate manner.