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.
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.