WATCHING the video clips of the bullying incident, where one boy was repeatedly punched and beaten by his schoolmates in a boarding school, was a distressing experience. This case should be a warning that we must pay closer attention to child bullying and work towards making it a thing of the past.
The issue is even more critical with cyberbullying emerging among children. This is because children are now more connected online, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, when education has shifted to virtual learning.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), one-third of the world’s Internet users are under 18 years old. The average age of first-time surfing on the Internet is also declining.
In a survey titled “Cyber Bullying and Online Violence in Malaysia” (2019), U-Report, which works with Unicef, civil society, government and media partners to amplify the voices and concerns of young people, found that 29% of children aged 14 years and below and 30% of those aged between 15 and 19 in Malaysia have experienced cyberbullying. There were 6,795 participants in the survey.
Currently, there are three Acts used by the judiciary against child bullies – Penal Code (such as Sections 147, 499, 503 and 507), Child Act 2001 (Section 75) and Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (Section 233). However, there are loopholes in these provisions that allow the bullies room to evade culpability.
For instance, under Sections 82 and 83 of the Penal Code, children below 10 and those aged between 10 and 12 years who have not yet reached sufficient maturity to understand and discern the laws and consequences of their actions would not be charged.
And under Section 74 of the Child Act 2001, children below the age of 14 will not be sent to Henry Gurney School, an institution that takes in and monitors juvenile offenders, even if they are found guilty of any offence punishable with imprisonment.
Bullies and their abettors below the age of 14 should be sent to Henry Gurney School for “behaviour and mental rehabilitation” programmes, but the duration should judged according to the severity of the offence.
To further address the child bullying issue, EMIR Research recommends the following:
1. Set up an online anonymous reporting platform. Victims of bullying often prefer to suffer in silence as they are afraid their report would lead to retaliation from the bullies. A safe reporting environment must be created for them, and all reports must be appropriately handled.
The platform should also function as a call centre similar to 999. It should operate 24/7and be manned by government staff from the Home Affairs, Education or Women, Family and Community Development ministries.
When processing the report, all the parties involved should collect evidence discreetly to avoid repercussions that could derail investigations, such as public fury manifested in mob or vigilante justice.
2. Make it mandatory for schools to conduct anti-bullying awareness campaigns every year. The schools could call in police officers from nearby police stations to deliver talks on the consequences of bullying. Schools could also get former victims of bullying to share their experience.
JASON LOH SEONG WEI and TAN TZE YONG