School bullying has reached epic proportions in Malaysia with children suffering from physical and verbal abuse on a regular basis.
Earlier this year, in a primary school in Bukit Tinggi, Klang Valley, five nine year old boys browbeat a fellow classmate into cutting his tongue with scissors. This primary bullying incident happened in a vacant classroom where no one could help. The boy had to be taken to a hospital for treatment.
In April of 2014, a young schoolgirl was brutally assaulted by a gang of female students at school. The assault was captured on video and posted online. The video showed attackers pulling the girl’s hair and dragging and kicking her at the top of a school stairwell. Police believe the offenders came from a school in the city of Kota Samarahan, Sarawak.
In Malaysian asrama (boarding schools), junior students are frequently victims of ‘ragging’ (bullying) by seniors. News stories tell of juniors being forced to do senior chores, perform humiliating acts and endure insults as well as beatings for no cause. Lack of adult supervision facilitates bullying behavior in boarding school environments.
These bullying cases illustrate what many kids go through in Malaysian schools.
Bullying Statistics Tell the Tale of Bullying in Malaysia
Malaysia has a history of bullying in almost all aspects of society. Bullying can easily be traced to Malaysian schools, homes and places of employment. At home, parental and sibling bullying are common with kids being subjected to verbal abuse and physical violence. Older children and adults also run the risk of workplace bullying by jealous colleagues or supervisors.
The following bullying information gives greater insight into Malaysia’s bullying problem:
- Approximately 84% of children in Malaysia have suffered from some form of bullying
- 33% of Malaysian children have been bullied online
- 45% of kids in Malaysia say they’ve bullied others offline; 15% have committed cyberbullying acts
- 27% of Malaysian parents warn their kids about the risks of using the Internet, but only a mere 18% educate their children about online etiquette
In researching what causes bullying in Malaysia, educators point to an epidemic of broken homes and weaknesses in the family structure. According to Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, Chairperson for Malaysia’s Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), bullies are the product of broken families. “They (bullies) take a hostile approach towards weak or lonely students at school to make up for the lack of control, love or attention at home,” Rahim says.
Usha Ponnudurai, deputy manager at HELP University’s Centre of Psychological & Counseling Services, agrees that factors at home contributes to bullying behavior. “Physical aggression between parents and children,” she says, “may act as a modelling behavior to youngsters, who then carry out such behavior at school. Name-calling and verbal put-downs between parents and children also serve as a template for children in managing social relationships.”
Kids who are neglected at home or lack moral training, parental supervision and guidance are more likely to become bullies at school. In Malaysia, many children come from poor backgrounds where quarrels, financial difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse and food shortage is the norm. Children who grow up under these conditions often form gangs in school to steal money, food or other ‘necessities’ from students who are better off, which is why primary bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying are on the rise.
Ponnudurai believes another reason why people bully is to earn the respect of their peers. “Children who lack a sense of right and wrong, and lack awareness of their strengths and weaknesses may choose to bully others to gain ‘popularity’ or validation from their peers, which is harmful,” she says.
Although Malaysian schools can do more to prevent bullying, teachers feel parents should take greater responsibility for teaching their kids moral values at home as well as set the example for their kids to follow. Teachers also point out that parental support is sorely lacking when it comes to teachers disciplining children for errant behavior. Some teachers have even been threatened by parents with police reprisal for taking disciplinary action against their kids.
How to Deal with Bullying in Malaysia
Teachers are not the only ones who fear reprisal for dealing with bullying situations. Most children don’t report bullying incidents due to fear of isolation by their peers or retaliation from bullies, making their situation worse.
“The bullies warn us not to tell our parents or teachers about the incidents. If we do, we will face the consequences,” said one bullying victim. “If I report to my teachers, the bullies will mark me. They will boycott me and get others to also boycott me in school. I will not have any friends and will be humiliated,” said another.
Fear and anxiety are among the long term effects of bullying that many children endure throughout their school years and beyond.
Malaysian schools have various options for resolving their bullying problems. The Department of Education has authorized an increase in school counselors so bullying victims and offenders can get professional counseling and guidance. An increase in probation officers to work with juvenile courts can also help in curtailing bullying behavior.
Some Malaysian citizens feel there’s a need for more Sekolah Tunas Harapan (special rehab schools) to handle boys convicted of serious bullying behavior. Under Malaysia’s Juvenile Courts Act 1947, boys 10 years and older who are guilty of stealing, physical assault or extortion could be sent to these schools for rehabilitation.
Cyberbullying in Malaysia is on the Rise
According to a 2014 DiGi CyberSafe study, cyberbullying incidents among school age children in Malaysia are on the rise. Approximately 26% of Malaysian children have experienced internet bullying, with 13-15 year olds being the most common targets. Approximately 14,000 school children across Malaysia took part in the survey which was conducted over a nine month period of time.
The survey revealed some startling cyberbullying facts:
- The level of online harassment rose to 70% with name calling and posting of inappropriate messages or photos on social media being the most common offenses
- Surprisingly enough, 64% of young people didn’t consider ‘sending improper SMSes, posting inappropriate photos, and pretending to be someone else online’ bullying offenses
- 40% of children surveyed said they wouldn’t know how to handle bullying or protect themselves online
- Two thirds of children 13 years and younger took little to no protective measures when going online; yet 53% of them believed they could navigate the Internet safely on
- Approximately 70% of children under 13 showed little concern over invasion of their privacy or knowing who they interact with online
- Over 40% of kids who considered online safety important exercised low levels of online protection
- Half of Malaysian children who use the Internet do so unsupervised; 40% claim no safety rules are imposed on them by anyone
Lars Norling, DiGi’s CEO, felt these online bullying facts provided ‘valuable insights’ into Internet behavior patterns of young people in Malaysia today. “The findings of this national study will help us tailor relevant programs that not only equip the younger generation children with the right knowledge and skills, but also to inculcate good judgment and positive cyber conduct,” he said.
Does Malaysia have Cyberbullying Laws?
Malaysia has no specific laws against cyberbullying, cyber stalking or online harassment. However, hacking into a person’s online accounts or installing a virus or tracking device on their computer or mobile device can be prosecuted under Malaysia’s Computer Crimes Act of 1997. In like manner, sending threatening messages could be a criminal offense (depending on content) under Malaysia’s Communications & Multimedia Act 1998 or Section 503 of Malaysia’s Penal Code dealing with intimidation.
Bullying is a complex problem that requires a unified front by Malaysian teachers, parents, communities and political leaders to resolve. In Malaysia, much work needs to be done to create a bully-free society. Every step Malaysians take to combat bullying and promote a higher moral standard in schools, at home and at work will bring them one step closer to reaching this goal.