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Keeping children safe from bullies in Malaysia

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Tee Shiao Eek
At his primary school in Malaysia, Ivan Wong, 10, has suffered physical and psychological bullying that has forced him to give up activities he enjoys.

By Tee Shiao Eek

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 15 July 2009 – Ivan Wong, 10, loves badminton. His hero is Malaysia's top shuttler, Lee Chong Wei. Ivan used to look forward to Saturday mornings, when he could go to school and play badminton with his friends. But his love for the game could not withstand the incessant teasing directed at him by the older boys at school.

“They laughed at me, because I was not good at badminton,” recalled Ivan. “It made me feel sad and frustrated.”

Hurt and ashamed, he decided to stop going to the school to play. Now, he only plays at home with his mother and grandparents.

Harmful words and actions

“Bullying does not only take the form of physical violence,” explained UNICEF Representative in Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Youssouf Oomar. “A common and destructive form of bullying is psychological in nature, such as taunting, teasing, name-calling and exclusion from social groups or activities.”
Both forms of bullying lead to genuine suffering for the victim. Emotionally, children who are bullied often suffer feelings of great distress, fear and self-doubt, with an overall drop in self-esteem. This can lead to absenteeism from school and a negative impact on the learning process.

“Violence has no place in a school, which is supposed to be an environment that is a safe haven for children to learn, develop their social, emotional and mental skills, and have fun,” said Mr. Oomar.

A symptom and a cause

Bullying is both a symptom and a cause of a socially unsupportive environment. And it violates children's right to be protected from all forms of physical and mental harm, as explicitly stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Malaysia ratified in 1995.

© HELP University College/2007
Students from Bukit Bandaraya Secondary School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, participate in a school-based bullying prevention exercise, part of a pilot study by Malaysia’s Ministry of Education, UNICEF and HELP University College.

“The CRC guides us to recognize that fulfilling a child's right to education does not stop simply at building schools,” noted Mr. Oomar. “It also calls for governments, communities and schools to make education meaningful – that is, to provide children a learning environment that is safe, physically, emotionally and intellectually.”

Children need to have safe schools where they can enjoy and benefit from learning, as evidenced by the 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children. In this landmark study, children revealed their hope that teachers and other school staff would be able to give them advice and help them get along with each other in order to develop the habits of mutual respect and empathy that will lead to lives of constructive citizenship.

Creating a bully-free environment

In Malaysia, UNICEF is collaborating with the Ministry of Education and HELP University College to launch an anti-bullying programme that aims to enhance the overall capacity of schools to efficiently cope with bullying behaviour among students.

The programme teaches victims to respond to bullying in positive and constructive ways – and guides teachers, parents and bystanders on how they can play a role in creating a physically and emotionally safe environment within the school. To that end, an anti-bullying teaching manual has been developed and launched.

If left unchecked, bullying can have serious consequences. It can create intense anger and bitterness within victims and may lead to them also becoming bullies to younger children. Others may express their anger through vandalism, theft and other anti-social behaviours.

The act of bullying is not a random occurrence. Often, it is a warning sign of other behavioural problems, such as poor academic grades, absenteeism and truancy. It can also indicate that the child may be suffering from violence at home, weak social ties, anti-social peers, poor parent-child relationships or drug and substance abuse.

UNICEF believes that schools have an invaluable role to play in helping children build their confidence and their feelings of well-being. In doing so, schools can help to ensure that their students are not victimized by bullies.



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