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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bullying: Take the bull by the horn

The entire nation has been talking about bullying cases in schools lately after the brutal torture of T Nhaveen resulted in his death. Just before the death of Nhaveen, a naval cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain met his untimely death in the hands of a group of 13 Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (UPNM) students who attacked him over a missing computer. 
Studies show that statistics on bullying cases in Malaysia stand unchanged at two percent over the past four years but we must also not forget that the severity of these cases is worsening.
Although there are laws on bullying, these bullies continue to make their mark without fear. Something is wrong, and it’s time we respond with more severe and effective measures and involve various parties to join forces in collaboration.
I would like to lend some of my suggestions under the following headings:  
Perhaps in Law, we can make it part of policy – if there is a loophole for these violent bullies to walk free - after causing death, for certain laws to be amended accordingly.  
All bullies who are involved in cases of fatal bullying must fully face the full brunt of the Law. These kinds of acts are inhumane and it simply does not make sense to justify that a sane person cannot comprehend the consequences of such unruly behaviour. 
If they are juveniles, let them be incarcerated in correctional homes till they are 18 and then continue serving jail term in the prison for adults. Perhaps, the implementation of stricter punitive policies will be more effective in curbing the unsavoury crime of bullying, especially in our schools and institutions of higher learning.     
Laws, rules, and regulations have always been there to punish wrongdoers but they must be made malleable enough to change according to situations and context. These days, it seems people have no fear as they will always try to find a loophole to defend themselves in the courtroom. 
It’s a norm for schools to operate under the merit system. But does this solve anything in reality? The maximum punishment is expelling the delinquent student from the school. Is this the best solution? Will they not join other schools and start recruiting "gangs" there and continue with their bad behaviour? 
Perhaps, it can be made mandatory in law if the offending students' fourth offence in school is bullying, then the student involved should be remanded automatically without bail for at least 14 days in the local police station.
This can make a very big difference as a deterrent.   
Schools should have their own anti-bully policy and it has to be made clear to both parents and students from the beginning. Let the students be aware of the consequences of being a bully.
School authorities and parent-teacher groups (PIBG) must also play a more effective role and not just be passive observers. The PIBG can be directly involved in the schools by creating campaigns and hosting talks against the scourge called "bullying".
The consequences of bullying and being members of a "bullying gang" must be highlighted during orientation week where students and parents participate together.
Most schools have CCTVs but most of them are not functioning or are not being monitored. These facilities are installed to reduce crime rates and they must serve their useful purpose and be beneficial.
It must be made mandatory for school authorities such as the discipline teacher to monitor the footages from the cameras so that these facilities are not mere decorative pieces. 
It would also be a good idea to implement an online system where students and parents can lodge complaints about bullying activities while remaining anonymous.  
Teachers must be aggressive in monitoring student behavior and activity. They must be brave "no-nonsense" overseers of all the goings on in the school compound and outside the school parameters.
Teachers are "second parents" for the students and it is their responsibility to raise good citizens.
They must come up with activities that include all students in the class and not just those who are attentive to the lessons taught or are the blue-eyed boys and girls only. Teachers must include all students in the common activities daily and must make sure that everyone is "present" and active.
They should also look out for students who show signs of being bullied and also those who show signs of being a bully. Call them up for immediate counselling. Perhaps, teachers could also organise role play activities and let the students learn values like empathy, kindness, charity and neighbourly love and care.  
Sometimes, this is the issue. People who are different than us in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc, are all seen as aliens. They are considered to be less human than us. With these negative sentiments comes the urge to discriminate and attack, them especially if they are lesser in numbers and are considered minorities in the school fraternity and in society.
Children must be raised to respect all and sundry and be taught to appreciate the colours and essence of diversity.   
I once read a local academician saying, “ Bullies are not born but raised. “ I agree. Modesty is the key.
Be friendly with your children, talk to them and always be updated with the events in their lives, be their best friend and be the first one whom they will seek in difficult situations.
If there is a need to discipline them, then do so according to what the law allows. Enroll them into spiritual classes and instill good values in them. Equip them with self-defense skills. 
Be firm always. Set rules and regulations at home. Monitor their activities and the company they are keeping. Be moderate – play your role accordingly. But most importantly, be there as a parent. If your child is being bullied, talk and write to the teachers and school management.
If the bullies are not students, get legal advice and lodge a report if needed. Bullying is not something that we can leave to the kids to deal with. Do not allow them to roam alone or in secluded places, always check on them. Engage them in activities where there are more people who share the same dreams and hobbies like them.
Teach them how to discriminate between good and bad, teach them how to think. By equipping them with these qualities, it will be difficult for them to be influenced by any bad company.
And on a final note, I must say we need the collaboration of parents, teachers and the Law, namely the police to help alleviate this ugly phenomenon called "bullying". 

S. Gopinath is President of Malaysian Indian Network of Entrepreneurs Association- Mkini

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