None untouched, kids call for anti-bullying law to feel safe

Debra Chong
Marianne Clark-Hattingh, Unicef representative to Malaysia, said the survey results showed the width and breadth of the bullying culture, and highlighted the urgent need to arrest it. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 ― Bullying has become a pandemic social disease in Malaysia that seven out of 10 children believe legislation is needed to protect them from bullies, according to the Children4Change nationwide survey released today in conjunction with World Children’s Day.

Carried out by Unicef and social enterprise WOMEN: girls, the survey from April to September this year found that all of the of 2,011 children under age 18 polled have has brushes with bullying during their lives ― whether as a victim, a perpetrator, or a witness.

Three out of four said they have been bullying victims.

A shocking 64 per cent admitted to bullying, whether verbally or physically. When the figure was broken down and the children asked if they have ever called someone else names, hit, kicked, pushed, threatened or been mean, 21 per cent said “Yes” and a further significant 43 per cent said “Maybe”.

The most common place where bullying occurred was at school, according to 83 per cent of victims; most specifically, the classroom was a hotbed of bullying, according to 54 per cent of victims and bystanders who witnessed bullying taking place.

The second most common place is on the internet, with 58 per cent children saying they have witnessed bullying through social media.

Most of the bullied children indicated that they would take some form of action to protect themselves, with just over half or 51 per cent saying they would report the incident to a teacher, followed by confiding in a friend or a parent.

Data showed it was more prevalent among the younger children, 69 per cent for those under 12 years old, dropping as they grow older, resulting in only 38 per cent of those above 15 years old.

The survey also showed that violence begets violence among those who witnessed bullying. One in three witnesses said they responded to the violence by turning on the bully, either by yelling or punching.

Bullying witnesses also said they feared they would be targeted next.

Two out of three children said they would feel more protected if there was a national anti-bullying law and anti-bullying education programmes, followed by an anti-bullying school policy.

Half of those polled among the 16 to 17 age group asked for a 24-hour free hotline. Other ideas suggested to curb the incidences of bullying were for schools to install CCTVs, teach self-defence lessons, hold civic camps for bullies and have good counsellors who would listen without judging. 

But one of the students polled that laws alone was insufficient if there was no human follow-through.

“Setting laws is not enough. They need to be seen to be put to use. Make sure that teachers and students alike treat everyone as proper human beings,” the anonymous student said was quoted saying in the survey.

Marianne Clark-Hattingh, Unicef representative to Malaysia, said the survey results showed the width and breadth of the bullying culture, and highlighted the urgent need to arrest it.

“We tend to underestimate the impact of bullying on children and to belittle its effects. In doing so we discourage children from speaking up, be they victim or bystander.

“This is dangerous as it makes children more vulnerable to violence and its consequences. It is essential that children feel safe to report cases, have confidence that appropriate action will be taken to address bullying, and support given to the victims,” she said in a statement accompanying the survey results.

She said the authorities need to pay attention and act to encourage every child to speak up against bullying and enable them to be part of the solution.

* A previous version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected.

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