In Bullying Around the World

Bullying in Indonesia

The exotic Southeast Asian country of Indonesia, is composed of thousands of islands sprawled between Asia and Australia bordering the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The country’s 243 million people come from hundreds of ethnic backgrounds and speak hundreds of languages. Jakarta, Indonesia’s vibrant capital, sits on the isle of Java along with the famous cities of Surabaya and Yogyakarta.

Glamorous beaches, colorful jungles, mysterious wildlife and volatile volcanoes make Indonesia a hotspot for tourists from all over the globe. Indonesia is also home to the largest Muslim populace in the world as well as Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

As a developing country, Indonesia has great potential for the future. It also has its share of problems. Like so many countries around the world, Indonesian culture is rife with bullying. School bullying, in particular, has taken a great toll on the quality of education in the country.

Bullying is so prevalent in Indonesia’s school system that examples of primary bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying can be found in most of the country’s provinces. Sadly enough, school bullying is claiming the lives of children as young as primary school age through physical violence and suicide. In a talk to university students, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, social minister of Indonesia, said, “Today, (November 2015) 40% of children that commit suicide do so because of bullying.”

Khofifah urged schools to take a stance against bullying and put an end to their culture of abuse among students. She encouraged teachers to do their part to strengthen their students’ character in an effort to stop bullying on school grounds. In some instances, students were resorting to self-harm such as slashing their wrists to escape from bullying taunts. Many students were victims of malicious texts from classmates who wanted to do them harm.

How Rampant is School Bullying in Indonesia?

In a 2012 survey released by Indonesia’s National Child Protection Commission, approximately 87.6% of the 1,026 participants reported they had been bullied either physically or verbally in school. The behavior victims experienced ranged from abusive name calling to physical beatings.

Of those who reported bullying behavior, 42.1% identified classmates as the primary source of abusive behavior. Approximately 29.9% of bullying victims said they were bullied by teachers and administrators while 28% said they were bullied by school staff such as janitors or security guards.

These troubling numbers are a cause of great concern for parents and school officials alike. Many parents fear for the health and welfare of their children attending Indonesian schools. Rather than being a safe haven where their kids can receive a quality education, Indonesian schools have become a habitation of bullies seeking their next prey.

Unfortunately, many Indonesian schools are indifferent to bullying behavior, considering it a natural part of their culture. Such attitudes filter down to victims who are reluctant to report offenses as they fear retaliation with nothing being done. According to survey reports, less than 15% of victims were keen on making allegations about bullying acts. Badriyah Fayumi, education chief for the National Child Protection Commission (KPAI), pretty much summed it up by saying, “Violence is still considered normal in many parts of society.”

Deputy chief Asronun Niam of the KPAI felt bullying numbers could actually be higher than the survey revealed due to students’ not reporting offenses that occur. Studies reveal that schools are in part to blame for the rise of bullying in their midst due to being lax in finding ways to prevent the violence. Even when bullying cases are reported, school officials are slow to respond.

Maria Ulfah, KPAI commission chairperson, feels the need for schools to develop a friendlier approach toward their students. Low tolerance for misbehavior often prompts teachers to punish children severely for minor offenses, causing students to fear their educators almost as much as they fear bullies. Indonesian teachers have been accused of using bullying tactics on their students to keep them in line.

In one instance, abusive behavior by a teacher was secretly caught on video footage by a student in a Cimahi, West Java, school. The footage showed the teacher smacking four pupils in the head and face with a rolled-up newspaper during class. The video appeared on Indonesia’s national MetroTV, shocking parents all over the country. The incident exposed the risk of violent behavior children faced from their own teachers, much less peers.

Sadly enough, the teacher in question was not dismissed but merely warned not to use such tactics in the classroom again. Meanwhile, the damage had been done. Parents who were already leery of sending their kids to school now lost even more confidence that their kids would be safe in a school environment.

After viewing the disturbing footage, Asrul Darsan, a father who has three kids of his own, commented: “Scary video. We don’t know what happens every day to our children. I guess it is very important to choose which school to send your children to. We can’t install closed-circuit television at our children’s schools, can we?”

Bullying in Indonesian Schools: Cause for Parental Concern

In 2010, 14 year old Riska was spotted by her parents perching on the ledge of a window in her home contemplating suicide. Struggling with weight problems, Riska was constantly bullied by schoolmates who taunted her for being fat. The relentless name calling and insults had caused Riska to fall into such a depressed state that she contemplated taking her life. Fortunately, she was stopped by her parents who immediately sought psychiatric help.

Years earlier, two other teens were not as fortunate – both took their lives at home due to being bullied at school. Linda, a 15 year old junior high school student, committed suicide after being ridiculed and picked on by fellow students due to failing junior high school classes. Thirteen year old Fifi Kusrini hung herself at home after being incessantly teased at school for having a father that worked as a street vendor.

In 2014, 12 year old elementary school student Fajar Murdianto died after receiving multiple beatings by bullies at school. The boy, who went into a coma due to his injuries, was hospitalized for several weeks before passing on. His doctor stated that brain concussion was the cause of death. Afterwards, the boy’s uncle confirmed the boy had problems with bullying at school, often returning home with bruises on his body. Apparently Fajar had been the target of school bullies since the 5th grade.

These incidents and more have Indonesian parents quite worried about the safety of their kids at school. Studies reveal that school bullying is a leading cause of child suicide in the country. According to bullying information released by the anti-bullying organization Sejiwa, an estimated 30 children between the ages of 6-15 attempted or committed suicide in Indonesia from 2001 to 2005.

In 2010, KPAI reported an estimated 2,339 incidents of violence against children in the country – 300 of these were categorized as bullying. Although this figure showed a decline from the 498 incidents reported a year earlier, it’s still sufficient cause for parental concern. Bullying awareness campaigns launched in schools could have been the reason for the decline. In addition, local NGOS and parents have become more involved in bullying issues in schools, sharing ideas with school officials on how to deal with bullying in their area.

Despite these efforts, many Indonesian parents are resorting to home schooling their kids, especially those who’ve been traumatized by bullying in public or private schools. According to Diena Haryana, CEO of Sejiwa, “Bullying at schools is still rampant in Indonesia. The number of cases is higher in rural areas where there is less access to information, media… Teachers there still adopt the old-school way of disciplining students, which is by way of applying pressure.”

Anti-Bullying Measures in Indonesia

Indonesia has taken anti-bullying measures to help rectify the problem of school bullying. In 1996, the country ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2003, it adopted the Child Protection Law. Yet, implementation of these measures is still slow on the “ground level” where it counts the most. According to the UN convention, children have ‘a right to live, grow up, participate in any activity and be protected from discrimination.’ A nation’s government is responsible for guaranteeing these rights.

In Indonesia, however, the child protection law doesn’t clarify the government’s responsibility to uphold UN convention rights. As such, ‘old-school’ teachers can get away with denying children their rights. In some schools, children can’t challenge what teachers do or say, even if their actions go against the UN convention. In like manner, older students can breach the rights of younger children by blocking their participation in some activities or events.

“What we found on the ground during our visits to schools,” Diena said “was that many, if not most, teachers in Indonesia do not know about these four rights each child is entitled to according to the UN convention. So how can they ensure students get their rights?”

Teachers who are not familiar with or fail to uphold children’s rights under the UN convention will be of little use in helping to prevent bullying in schools. First, their ignorance will make it difficult to even identify bullying incidents, much less prevent them. Second, they’ll have little incentive to make the extra effort to get involved.

In order to combat bullying effectively, teachers must be willing to break out of their routines and molds. Some teachers need to adopt new teaching methods that set a better example to their classrooms. Others need to learn more about the causes of bullying and how to handle bullying in their respective classes. For parents to have greater confidence in the Indonesian school system, they need to trust that teachers have their children’s best interest at heart when they do their job.

Violent Punishments Contribute to Bullying in Indonesia

Although it’s important for parents to know what’s happening in their kids’ schools, news stories and broadcasts of school violence depicting students fighting and teachers bullying children only adds to parental worries and fears. Parents fear that children will be adversely affected by such poor examples from adults and peers.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, KPAI head, agrees. “People around the children have been setting bad examples,” he said. “Teachers using violence in classrooms, television showing Members of Parliament fighting with one another – children can easily be copying them.”

Unfortunately, violent punishments as a form of disciplinary action are not uncommon in Indonesian schools. A 2005 Swedish Save the Children survey revealed that school children in North Maluku, Maluku and West Timor, where the research was conducted, received harsh punishments by teachers in comparison to their infraction. Some children were beaten; others were obligated to kneel for extensive periods of time; still others endured painful twisting of their ears.

Children told researchers they felt the punishments were harmful, inappropriate and counterproductive in helping them do better. They even came up with alternative disciplinary action to correspond with their misbehavior. The children suggested that fighting in school – an offense which often merited a beating – be punished by having the guilty parties illustrate or create a story on friendship. Rather than being beaten for arriving late to class, the students suggested teachers give them a chance to explain their tardiness.

The punishment for not doing homework was a beating or forced kneeling for extensive periods of time. Students suggested that homework be revised to make it easier for them to understand and complete their tasks.

The study gave parents and teachers greater insight into old-school methods of managing classrooms that mimicked bullying behavior. Many Indonesian schools still rely on violence to enforce discipline and educate their students. If teachers themselves exude bullying behavior to control their students, how can they expect to curtail peer bullying on their campuses? Before changes can be made, schools officials and teachers need to commit to the policies already laid out against bullying in child protection legislation.

Teachers’ Role in Eliminating Bullying Behavior

Teaching in Indonesia is an occupation that’s both underpaid and undervalued. Teachers are often required to work under less than favorable conditions. In some provinces, schools with large classes, dilapidated buildings and few resources are the norm. Some teachers lack training to handle large groups of students, which may be why they resort to primitive means of classroom management. The study recommended Indonesian teachers receive more training and greater support to help raise the standard of discipline and control without the use of bullying tactics.

A 2006 educational seminar on the subject of “Child Friendly Schools” presented by Indonesia’s Child Protection Committee, UNICEF and Save the Children UK also touched on harsh punishments in Indonesian schools. Similar recommendations concerning teacher training were made. Although Indonesia has a history of teachers using violent punishments to control their students, conditions can change through teacher training.

According to Bambang Sudibyo, the Minister for Education at the time, “culturally, violence is still seen as an effective way of enforcing discipline and educating a child. It is critical to train teachers in preventing and avoiding violence, including alternative ways of using discipline, stress management, and measures to protect children.”

To date, Indonesia’s educational system continues to be a topic of much debate. Such issues as how to stop school bullying and harsh punishments, lowering costs of education, increasing school resources and improving quality of education still need to be resolved in many schools across the country. Until long term solutions can be found, students will continue to face difficulties in getting the quality of education they deserve.

Causes of Bullying in Indonesia

Bullying statistics from various research studies in Indonesia clearly reveal how bullying has infiltrated Indonesian society.

In 2006, for example, a total of 247 physical violence cases were reported in Indonesia – 29 of these occurred within schools. Of the 426 sexual violence cases reported in the same year, 67 took place at schools. Of the 451 psychological violence cases reported in 2006, 96 occurred in schools.

In the first 6 months of 2007, KPAI reported 326 cases of bullying in Jabodetabek alone. In 2009, the city of Yogyakarta on the isle of Java had a higher percentage of middle school bullying and high school bullying (70.65%) than Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia or the much larger metropolis of Surabaya.

When exploring possible causes for bullying in Indonesian schools, researchers discovered that characteristics identified in student bullies were 1.65 times more likely to show up in children raised by authoritarian parents as compared to those coming from households that believed in ‘open parenting.’  Researchers concluded, therefore, that authoritarian parenting may very well be contributing to bullying behavior.

There’s no doubt that parents play a key role in the formation of their children’s character. Most kids receive the basic foundation of character training and moral ethics in their homes from the time they are small. By raising their children with such values as kindness, consideration and respect for others, parents help forge their character and provide them with essential social skills that will help them integrate well into school, work and society at large.

John Locke, world renowned English philosopher and physician, likened a child’s brain and heart to a ‘blank sheet of paper’ wherein anything could be written by those who influence a child’s life as he or she grows. What’s recorded on these sheets from early childhood onward will affect a child’s mindsets, attitudes and behavior well into adulthood.  As parents provide most of a child’s training in the early years, they would be most responsible for setting the foundation of their children’s development.

Authoritarian parents who force children to obey are more likely to instill in them aggressive behavior that leads to bullying. In like manner, parents who are overly permissive and fail to set boundaries for their kids give them free reign to do as they will. This lack of responsibility towards others can lead to bullying behavior.

Both authoritarian and permissive parenting styles can negatively impact a child’s character development causing him or her to have bullying tendencies. In contrast, a ‘democratic’ or open parenting style that encourages kids to be forthcoming, independent and responsible helps children to grow with positive attitudes and mindsets that enable them to integrate better into society. Children with good character training are not only less likely to partake of bullying activities but are more capable of handling bullying if and when it arises.

Children are great imitators. They will copy the example they see in their parents, teachers and other adults who influence their lives. If adults treat children with dignity and respect, that’s likely how they will treat others.

Ethnic and religious differences, physical differences, peer pressure, sexual orientation and economic background are yet other possible causes of bullying in Indonesian schools. As Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, there is great intolerance to the LGBT community. This intolerance can be viewed throughout Indonesian society, from private businesses to government agencies to local schools. As such, individuals

Recent comments made by high ranking political figures have only made matters worse, opening the door to verbal and physical abuse against university students, business owners, community members and others who support LGBT causes. While teaching kids to be more accepting and tolerant of others begins in the home, schools and government agencies need to reinforce these values if they are to take hold in society at large.

Cyberbullying: A Rising Threat in Indonesia

As the number of Internet users increases in a country, so does the risk of cyberbullying. Indonesia has seen a marked increase in digital technology over the years, with over 71 million people using the Internet in 2014 alone. With greater Internet accessibility, there has been a widespread increase in the use of computers, tablets and smartphones.

Young people between the ages of 15 to 30 make up most of the country’s Internet users (50-80%). Most utilize the Internet for socializing online. Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular social sites in Indonesia, with approximately 30 million people having Twitter accounts and 51 million having Facebook accounts. Indonesia has become a virtual hotspot for Twitter users, many of which use the site to promote personal, social or political opinions.

Internet use has made a positive contribution to Indonesian society. As a learning tool, students find the Internet a valuable source of information. The Internet has also enhanced social connectivity between communities, which is highly valued in Indonesian culture. At the same time, ease in connectivity increases the risk of users being exposed to cybercrimes, most of which occurs on social media sites.

The rapid rise of cyberbullying in Indonesia is directly attributed to the 24/7accessibility that digital technology has provided. Current and future generations are more liable to experience the full threat of cyberbullying as time goes on. Many parents and teachers are already seeing the impact of cyber offenses on Indonesian youth.

Depending on the offense, cyberbullying can have short and long term effects. The long term effects of cyber offenses can include loss of confidence and self-esteem, damage to a person’s character and reputation, financial loss and chronic health problems due to stress and pressure the offense has caused.

The emotional and psychological impact of cyberbullying may be greater for young people, as evidenced by the high percentage of suicide attempts from victims of cyberattacks. Young people can be easily devastated by online attacks from former boyfriends/girlfriends or classmates. As online posts are so far reaching and can remain active almost on a permanent basis, this only intensifies a young person’s feelings of humiliation, anguish and pain.

Statistics and Facts about Cyberbullying

A recent international Reuters online poll involving 18,000 adults (approximately 1/3 of these were parents) from 24 countries revealed the following startling cyberbullying facts:

  • 10% of parents polled said their children had been victims of cyberattacks; 25% knew of some young person who had been victimized as well
  • 75% of survey participants felt cyberbullying warranted specialized attention for preventative measures
  • 60% of those polled said social networks were the favored vehicle of cyberattacks; mobile phones and chat rooms came in second and third place with 40% each
  • In Indonesia, 91% of those surveyed were familiar with Internet bullying and what it entailed; 53% said they knew a child in their community who had been targeted by bullies online
  • Over 50% of young cyberbullying victims don’t report attacks to their parents
  • “Hyper-networking” tweens and teens (those spending over 3 hours daily on social sites) increase their chances of being cyberbullied by 110% as compared to young people who spend less time socializing online

Additional research gave greater insight into why bullies launch cyberattacks:

  • 11% said they bullied as a means of showing off to friends
  • 14% wanted to display their ‘meanness’
  • 28% bullied for entertainment or fun
  • A whopping 58% bullied as a means of revenge

How to Avoid Online Attacks

Wiser use of the Internet, especially by young people, is key to minimizing the risk of Internet bullying. Parents should educate their kids on online usage before allowing them to join social sites. Parents should also take greater care to monitor their kids’ online activities.

Minimizing social media usage can also reduce the risk of being bullied online. In a society as socially active as Indonesia, however, this can be easier said than done. Children and teens are fairly addicted to socializing online. A large percentage of Indonesian youth also have easy access to such technology as smartphone, tablet or computers, enabling them to connect practically anytime and anywhere. Cyberattacks can come via mobile phone texts, emails or online chats just as much as through social medial sites.

Parents should take note of bullying signs such as change of behavior in their children, desire for greater secrecy and loss of interest in school as an indication their kids could be targets of bullying online. It’s important parents and teachers recognize the dangers that cyberbullying poses to the younger generation. An apathetic attitude towards this threat could very well cost young tweens or teens their life.

Cyber-victimization at the Junior High Level

Cyberbullying can be a nightmare for parents of young tweens and teens who are just beginning to plan their future. In recent years, online bullying has made drastic inroads into the junior high school age level in Indonesia and even younger.

In a 2016 study published in the Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology (TOJET), researchers sought to examine the frequency and impact of Internet victimization at the junior high school level in Indonesia. For their study, they surveyed 102 seventh graders aged 12-13 from a private school in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. Of these students, 72 were boys and 30 girls. The participants came from different backgrounds, ethnic groups and economical standings. Their findings revealed the following:

  • Approximately 80% of student participants had been bullied online, many on a daily basis.
  • Both genders experienced cyberbullying on an equal basis; boys, however, committed more online offenses than girls.
  • 27.5% of students experienced Facebook bullying; 12.7% were bullied on Twitter; and 12.7% were bullied through texts. Participants also experienced bullying via phone calls and YouTube.
  • The major form of bullying was harassment via name calling (45.1%).  Other bullying behavior included denigration, threats, exposure to sexual materials and release of personal data without consent.
  • Of the 102 student participants, 29.4% said they used the Net mainly for school; 40.2% said they used the Net mostly for online socialization; and 23.5% said they used the Net for playing games online. Those who connected on social sites or played games were more susceptible to bullying online.
  • 53.9% of the students who were bullied had no idea who was behind the cyberattacks; 11.8% said the bullies were former friends; 9.8% said the bullies were classmates and 3.9% said the bullies were students from other schools.
  • Regarding the action participants took when cyberbullied, 48% said they simply ignored the act; 31.4% said they fought back; 7.8% told a teacher or school administrator; 6.9% told their parents and 5.9% told a friend.

Bullying anonymity makes it difficult for victims to identify their assailant and fight back. This makes online bullying more confusing for victims and in some cases, creepier than traditional face to face encounters. Parents may not be able to convince their kids to pull back from social networks, but they can teach them online safety skills that could protect them from bullies or help them cope if they are targeted by a bully online.

Dangers of ‘Discussing’ Social and Moral Issues Online

Social networks were originally designed as a means of connecting with family and friends online. In Indonesia, however, social platforms have become ‘pubic spheres’ in which people have taken to ‘discussing’ social issues, voicing discontent, exposing people’s mistakes and posting controversial views on political matters. Despite Indonesia being a democratic society, this trend has led to dangerous repercussions to those who have used their ‘freedom of speech’ unwisely.

“Unity in diversity” is how the country views its multicultural society; however, this viewpoint plays out quite differently when people express controversial opinions or perspectives on social sites. Online criticism of people, places or ideals outside of a person’s social standing can result in retaliation by those who have taken offense to what was said.

Take the case of a Batak university student who called the city of Yogyakarta ‘poor’, ‘stupid’ and ‘uncultured’ online. This personal opinion got her arrested and suspended from graduate studies.

In Indonesia, the Internet’s 24/7 connectivity and expansive reach makes it a viable means of ‘making one’s voice heard’ – particularly through social media. Although Internet users only comprise about 23% of the country’s 240 million people, nearly all of these users connect to social networks. Indonesians rank 4th in the world for Facebook users and Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, outranks every other city in the world when it comes to sending ‘tweets. It’s no wonder that the country has been hailed as the ‘social media capital of the world.’ Using the Net as public space to air personal conflicts, however, can pave the way for a new type of cyberbullying – this time from the masses.

Florence Sihombing, a university grad student attending Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, learned her lesson the hard way when she used social media to criticize the city after experiencing a situation where she had trouble purchasing non-subsidized petrol for her motorcycle. Ms Sihombing, originally from the city of Medan in North Sumatra, was immediately barraged by negative comments from Yogyakartans who took offense at her criticism, and demanded that she be expelled from their province.

To add insult to injury, Yogyakartan police later arrested her on charges of defamation under the city’s Electronic Information & Transactions law. Although she was eventually released, Ms Sihombing continues to have legal problems in the city. In addition, she was suspended from Gadjah Mada University. A public apology did little to appease the populace or eradicate the damage.

Indonesia’s population is comprised of over 300 ethnic groups which speak 700 distinct languages. People who publicly express their opinions or views online run the risk of offending one or more of these groups in a city or province or even the entire city or province. People don’t take kindly to “outsiders” criticizing their own. Such actions have the potential to take cyberbullying to another level.

University Students Take a Stand against Bullying

Indonesia has some of the highest bullying statistics in the world. Approximately half of students ages 13-15 say they have been bullied at school. For every child who reports being a target for bullying, there are probably many more children suffering from the same fate who don’t report their plight. Children who are bullied face an uphill battle in overcoming the fear and stigma of their ordeal. Some kids are scarred for life as the effects of their bullying experience extends into their adult years.

Taking into account the serious repercussions that bullying in Indonesia can cause, five students from the University of Bogor (IPB) decided to take up this cause. In 2015, the group entered the Global Design for UNICEF Challenge, a competition that challenged young people in different parts of the world to help resolve local issues that plagued their society. The IPB students chose to address the problem of bullying in Indonesian schools.

One of the students, Aldila Setiawati, had personal experience with the topic seeing as she had been severely bullied all through her school years. “Luckily,” she says, “I had my family to support me. But I often thought, what about the children with no support?”

Using the idea of support, the IPB students created the “We Are Siblings” program – a project designed to connect young people most susceptible to bullying with personal and online support networks that can help them through bullying incidences so they can move forward with their lives. “We know that bullying can possibly destroy a child’s future,” said Ms Setiawati. “We thought a support network could help stop this.”

The project was selected as one of the winners of the competition, providing the students with financial assistance from UNICEF to further develop the program. When fully operational, the program has the potential to assist bullied children not only in Indonesia, but all over the world.

According to Ali Ramly, a UNICEF child protection specialist, “Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in Indonesia. The numbers are frightening: a recent study found that 55 percent of male students and 45 percent of female students in classes 7-9 were bullied at least once.”

“The figures regarding violent bullying are particularly worrying,” he added. “8.2 percent of these students are bullied most often by being hit, kicked, pushed, shoved around or locked indoors. We Are Siblings represents an important step in finding new ways to address bullying. Their project perfectly aligns with the theme of the Global Design for UNICEF Challenge – How Can We Better Connect the Under-connected? It is essential to make sure no one feels alone when they are being bullied.”

UNICEF officials backing the competition are highly encouraged with the possibilities that “We Are Siblings” has to offer. This program offers great hope for bullying victims by providing them with the support system they need to keep going.

There are no positive attributes to bullying, regardless of its form. School bullying, workplace bullying and home bullying all have negative consequences to victims and bullies alike. A society rife with bullying, prejudice and violence will see future generations struggling to maintain the constructive and positive aspects of their culture.

By taking a stand against bullying and breaking free from traditions that accept violence as a normal part of its culture, Indonesia can provide its young people with greater opportunities to learn, grow and prosper in a bully-free society.

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