If this isn’t a call to ac­tion ...

A 2014 study found bul­ly­ing to be a ‘se­ri­ous prob­lem’ in Malaysian se­condary schools, with stu­dents us­ing sharp weapons such as knives.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion -

WHEN some­thing ter­ri­bly tragic hap­pens, per­haps the best we can do is to try to gen­er­ate good out of it. In­deed, sadly, it of­ten takes a tragedy to bring about a needed pro­tec­tive re­form.

My hope is that the out­pour­ing of anger over the tragic death of 18-year-old T. Nhaveen (who died on June 15 af­ter being beaten up) will drive us to ac­tu­ally do some­thing to pre­vent such cases from hap­pen­ing.

This was not a one-off in­ci­dent. Nhaveen had been bul­lied by some of his at­tack­ers at school. And there are other re­cent cases of hor­rific vi­o­lent bul­ly­ing:

> On June 1, navy cadet Zul­farhan Os­man Zulka­r­nain, 21, died with 80% burns on his body from a steam iron, scald­ing on his pri­vate parts, bro­ken ribs, and swelling on his head af­ter being tor­tured by 20 or more stu­dents. Six fel­low stu­dents have been charged.

> In May, six Form Two stu­dents at a ju­nior col­lege were as­saulted by 10 se­niors af­ter re­fus­ing to lend them foot­ball shoes. One vic­tim’s mother, a foren­sics doc­tor, lodged a po­lice re­port af­ter dis­cov­er­ing her son had in­juries to his head, back, stom­ach, and chest.

In the re­port, the mother said her son was hit on the head with a blunt ob­ject and had his head slammed into a wall and was forced to drink hot wa­ter.

How many more young lives will be cut short? For ev­ery death, there are many, many more who suf­fer silently.

Thou­sands of cases of bul­ly­ing are re­ported to the Ed­u­ca­tion Ministry ev­ery year, and those are just the tip of the ice­berg. Across the coun­try, count­less chil­dren suf­fer sense­less vi­o­lence. And re­mem­ber, even when in­juries are mi­nor, the psychological im­pact can be deep.

In board­ing schools, or as­rama, bul­ly­ing or “rag­ging” is vir­tu­ally in­sti­tu­tion­alised, in part due to the hi­er­ar­chy among stu­dents and a lack of adult su­per­vi­sion, as a 2013 The Star Online re­port found (tinyurl.com/star-online-rag­ging).

A 2014 Univer­siti Ke­bangsaan Malaysia study found bul­ly­ing to be a “se­ri­ous prob­lem” in se­condary schools, with stu­dents us­ing sharp weapons such as knives. Money was one fac­tor: bul­lies ex­torted money to buy cig­a­rettes while “mer­ce­nary bul­lies” got paid to­b­ully.

Clearly we need to act. But how? An online pe­ti­tion, which gar­nered close to 40,000 sig­na­tures in just over a week, is call­ing for “jus­tice” for Nhaveen “where the of­fend­ers can­not be spared”.

Jus­tice needs to be served, clearly, but should our fo­cus sim­ply be push­ing for those ac­cused – some of whom are mi­nors – to hang? That won’t make much of a dent in a deep na­tional prob­lem. We should do better than that. Any­how, re­spond­ing to vi­o­lence with vi­o­lence seems in­her­ently flawed.

Bul­lies are not born, they are cre­ated. They are a symp­tom of the en­demic vi­o­lence and skewed power re­la­tions within our so­ci­ety. They re­flect our lack of re­spect and in­tol­er­ance for oth­ers.

Sim­ply being dif­fer­ent can make you a tar­get. Nhaveen was tar­geted for being soft and “ef­fem­i­nate”.

Although the causes are com­plex, bul­ly­ing can be curbed and con­tained – as some coun­tries have done. A 2017 Unesco (United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion) re­port, “School Vi­o­lence and Bul­ly­ing”, de­tails the global na­ture and im­pact of the prob­lem, as well as ini­tia­tives to counter it, based on data from 19 coun­tries.

The re­port says chil­dren from mi­nor­ity communities, those with dis­abil­i­ties or per­ceived as gay have a higher risk of being bul­lied. It says bul­ly­ing is far more likely to oc­cur in toi­lets, play­grounds, and ar­eas less fre­quented by teach­ers.

And it says ex­pelling stu­dents, as is done in Malaysia, sim­ply trans­fers the prob­lem else­where. The re­port shows how schools are central to ad­dress­ing the prob­lem. A com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach is needed, cov­er­ing, among other ar­eas:

> School poli­cies and codes of con­duct;

> Aware­ness cam­paigns;

> Child-sen­si­tive, con­fi­den­tial re­port­ing mech­a­nisms and coun­selling;

> Rig­or­ous mon­i­tor­ing and data col­lect­ing;

> In­volve­ment of chil­dren; and, > Train­ing for teach­ers.

A first step would be a na­tional sur­vey to un­der­stand the ex­tent and na­ture of the prob­lem. A le­gal and sup­port­ive frame­work is also im­por­tant. South Korea has a law against bul­ly­ing. Ja­pan has a pro­gramme en­sur­ing bul­ly­ing is never ig­nored. Fin­nish schools teach all chil­dren to recog­nise and re­port bul­ly­ing, en­cour­ag­ing by­standers to take ac­tion.

We need to go all out to fight this is­sue on a grand scale, na­tion­wide. Schools need to take this on to en­sure the safety of our chil­dren. Our schools don’t have to be venues for vi­o­lence, they can be the place to stop vi­o­lence and pro­mote non­vi­o­lence.

It is tragic that Nhaveen’s bul­ly­ing be­gan in school but didn’t stop there. If this isn’t a call for ac­tion, what is?

Man­gai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into any­thing on being hu­man. She has worked with in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health bod­ies and has a Mas­ters in pub­lic health.

Bul­lies are not born, they are cre­ated. They are a symp­tom of the en­demic vi­o­lence and skewed power re­la­tions within our so­ci­ety.

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