By Angel Yong
School bullying is a pervasive issue in Malaysia, affecting students, teachers, and parents alike. Despite increased efforts to combat it, incidents continue to occur frequently. In 2022 alone, by August, a total of 120 cases had already been reported, highlighting the need for urgent action to address this problem1.
One of the most disturbing incidents occurred in June 2022, when a 14-year-old was beaten and tortured with a hot iron by 10 students at a boarding school for allegedly speaking to the girlfriend of one of the suspects2. In another case, 30 students were questioned by police over a bullying case that left a Form 2 student with injuries requiring medical attention3.
These are just some of the reports that have come to light indicating that bullying remains a persistent problem in Malaysia’s schools. To better understand the issue, two victims are speaking out and sharing their personal experiences as is.
“At 14, someone created a hate account on Instagram about me”
I always thought bullying has to involve some sort of physical abuse and that it is something that happens to other people, not me. However, experience has shown me that emotional and verbal bullying can be just as damaging.
From a young age, I was often criticised for not having the perfect body. Name-calling and constant teasing about my physical appearance were the norm. I didn’t think it was bullying – I just thought that I was not perfect. I was labelled ‘short’, ‘fat, and ‘not pretty enough’ and I even heard statements like, “She’s friends with them because she wants to be famous”.
When I was 14 years old, someone created a hate account on Instagram about me. The person (or people) behind it followed all my friends, edited my photos and began posting regularly with captions spreading false rumours.
Thank God I had friends who alerted me, or I would not have known. I didn’t know what to do but suffered in silence. A few days after the discovery, I decided to speak up. I reposted it on my own Instagram and asked friends to report and block the account.
What happened after that surprised me. A ‘love account’ surfaced — this time refuting the allegations about me. I felt blessed, but it was also difficult because it triggered an online war. The more good things were said about me, the more the hate account posted.
This went on for a while, and my last resort was to post a prayer on my Instagram asking for all the drama to end. After that, both accounts eventually stopped and were deleted. Although this happened a few years ago, the experience affected me and remains etched in my heart.
In my case, the drama did end, however, there are people out there who are still experiencing some form of bullying. We need to understand that bullying is not just physical. Name-calling, teasing and judging others is a form of bullying and it can have a negative long-term effect. If we are victims of bullying, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The first step is to stand up for yourself and speak up when you experience bullying.
Stephanie*, 19 years old
“I learned to not let the hate comments get under my skin”
I did not have a fun primary or secondary school life and was considered a ‘loser’. In both my primary and early secondary years, I did not do well in my studies and had a ‘weird’ personality. As a result, I was bullied, fat-shamed and name-called.
I struggled with my studies and could not find anyone to help. I felt ignored and unsupported. My parents had high expectations for me and when I didn’t meet the mark, I felt like I did not have any friends to share with. In my younger years, I felt like I was ‘floating’ through life without any goals or aspirations.
The only thing keeping me going was Mathematics. It was the only thing that I was good at. Solving math problems made sense to me compared to the complicated world that I was surrounded with. Even to this day, I use mathematics as a coping mechanism to help me through hard times such as heartbreak or tragedy.
Then when I was 13 years old, I was chosen to be a class monitor. That forced me to make changes in my life. I had to work on my communication skills and it boosted my confidence. Soon, I started caring less about what others said about me and not letting hate comments get under my skin. I embraced my personality and began making meaningful friendships. My grades improved as well.
Today, I’ve found my passion in teaching and helping others, because it allows me to engage in conversations with others without having to think of topics to talk about.
We should not use our mouths to spread hate and negative comments about one another. In my opinion, we were given hands to help others, not to fight or type hate comments on the internet. We should strive to improve the lives of those around us and not make them more miserable than it already is.
The bullying did have an impact on the person I am today. I don’t despise it when recollect the memories but the battle scars are real and it has shaped me and made me reflect and think. I want to be someone who helps others because I don’t want anyone to go through what I did in my earlier years.
Jack*, 19 years old
*Names changed to protect privacy
Why do people bully others?
As Stephanie and Jack have shared, bullying is indeed prevalent in schools today. But why do people bully? According to the US government’s official website on bullying4, some factors include:
- Peer Factors: Some young people may bully others to gain acceptance and demonstrate loyalty to their peer group.
- Family Factors: Young people who bully may have parents or caregivers who are emotionally unavailable or have difficulty communicating with them, which can lead them to seek validation through bullying behaviour.
- Emotional Factors: Some young people who bully may have been victims of bullying themselves in the past, or may currently be struggling with emotional issues that leave them feeling powerless, leading them to take out their frustrations on others.
- School Factors: Bullying may be more prevalent in schools where conduct issues and bullying are not adequately addressed, creating an environment where bullying can thrive.
Children and teenagers who feel secure and supported by their families, school, and peers are less likely to bully. It’s crucial to foster a positive and supportive school culture that values inclusivity, empathy, and respect for others. Educating young people about the negative impact of bullying and empowering them to speak up against it when they witness it is also crucial in addressing this problem.
What are the forms of bullying?
A bullying situation is characterised by aggressive and harmful behaviour toward a person by a person with more power or influence. Whenever bullying happens, it can lead to mild to severe consequences. Bullying can take the following forms:
- Physical: Using physical force or aggression to harm or intimidate another person, such as hitting, pushing, tripping, kicking, spitting and more.
- Verbal: Use of words or language to harm, intimidate, or belittle another person, such as name-calling, teasing, insulting, threatening, spreading rumours and more.
- Relational or social: Using relationships, social status, or manipulation to harm someone by gossiping or spreading rumours, excluding them from a group or an activity, controlling their behaviour or harassing and embarrassing another person.
- Damage to the property of the victim: Intentionally damaging, stealing, or vandalising another person’s personal belongings or property, such as their school bag, bike, clothes, or electronic devices.
- Cyberbullying: Using digital platforms like social media, text messages, emails or online discussion boards to harm or harass someone. This can take different forms such as sending threatening or insulting messages, sharing embarrassing photos or videos and excluding individuals from online conversations or groups.
Who’s most likely to be a victim of bullying?
Individuals who are perceived as different from others, such as those with disabilities or those belonging to minority and marginalised groups, tend to get bullied more often.
Studies have also shown that those identified as potential victims are often fearful and lack assertiveness. They become prime targets because they do not know how to stand up for themselves5.
There are several distinctive features of children who are more likely to be picked on5:
- Academic Excellence: Gifted students, those who excel academically, and those who are determined, intelligent, and creative are often targeted for their perceived differences.
- Popularity: Well-liked or popular children who threaten the social standing of others may also become targets.
- Vulnerability: Children who are introverted, anxious, or submissive are more likely to be targeted by bullies.
- Isolation: Children who have fewer friends or are often alone may be more vulnerable to bullying.
- Distinct Physical Appearance: Children who have physical features that make them stand out may become targets of bullying.
- Illness or Disability: Children who have illnesses or disabilities may be more likely to be targeted by bullies.
- Different Sexual Orientation: Children who identify as LGBTQ+ are at higher risk of being bullied.
- Religious or Cultural Beliefs: Children who have different religious or cultural beliefs from the bully may become targets.
- Race: Children who are of a different race than the bully may also be targeted.
The bully targets those who are different, using their differences to gain power and control over them. This can also lead to discrimination or social exclusion for the victim.
Bullies may use these traits, but victims should not be blamed. It is important to remember that bullying is never the fault of the victim, and no one deserves to be treated poorly.
What’s happening in Malaysia?
In Malaysia, cyberbullying is becoming increasingly prevalent. From 2011 to 2018, our country ranked second in Asia and sixth worldwide for cyberbullying8.
In 2021, then-Education Minister Radzi Jidin warned school headmasters not to hide bullying incidents in efforts to protect their image.
Critics have also observed that school administrators also hide cases of bullying or indiscipline to “protect their name and prospects of promotion6.”
Earlier this year, the High Court dismissed a suit by a 17-year-old plaintiff with autism and ADHD made against a special education secondary boarding school. The plaintiff and his guardian had alleged instances of bullying.
Leading activists involved in working with the disabled released a statement urging the Education Ministry to “fulfil its responsibility by ensuring that schools exercise their duty of care and are safe places for our children7.”
The Malaysian government and Education Ministry is well-aware of the growing issue, with several initiatives in place to combat bullying. In 2021, the Education Ministry announced a comprehensive framework focusing on awareness, reporting, sentencing and monitoring7.
An online portal has also been launched for people to report bullying incidents called Aduan Buli, offering three channels to report cases to the authorities.
How can we do our part to prevent bullying?
As Malaysians, we can advocate and raise awareness of the far-reaching effects of bullying on our school-going children. But more than that, we can take action. Here are three practical ways to get started:
Stand up and be counted: When one stands up to speak out against bullying, they are taking an important step towards preventing it.
Lift victims up: Be there for the people who have been bullied and provide them with a listening ear and support.
Learn the signs of bullying: Pick up any signs of bullying and report it to the appropriate authorities, whether at school or in public areas. Remember, bullying is a choice by the bully and is never the responsibility of the victim.
Action and prayer go hand in hand
As Christians, we believe action and prayer go hand in hand. When we pray and do our part, we can trust that God is doing His as well, working in the hearts of all involved.
Often, bullies have been bullied themselves or lack the support needed to thrive or understand the impact of their actions. Victims may feel alone, isolated and helpless We can pray for:
- Victims: Pray for comfort, protection and courage for those being bullied in Malaysia. May they feel God’s love and presence with them as they stand up for themselves and seek help.
- Bullies: Pray for bullies to have a change of heart, understand the harm their actions are causing and seek help from the right people. Ask God to instil in them a heart of empathy and compassion towards others, and to acknowledge everyone’s worth even as they learn to recognise their own.
- Education Ministry and all parties working to solve this issue: Pray for wisdom and guidance for Malaysian officials, educators, and community leaders working to stop bullying. Ask God to show them effective solutions promoting kindness, respect, and inclusivity in all societal aspects.
If you are a victim of bullying, have witnessed bullying in your school or know of someone who is suffering silently, please help by reporting it at Aduan Buli. For practical tips on standing up to bullying, click here.
If you need a listening ear, you can also call the Befrienders at 03-7627 2929.
1. Education, Home Ministries launch channel for students and parents to report bullying in schools, 2022, Malay Mail
2. 10 teens nabbed over bullying case where victim was injured with hot iron, 2022, The Vibes
3. Cops take statements from 30 statements in bullying case, 2022, FMT
4. Gordon S, 10 Types of Kids Most Likely to be Bullied, 2021, Verywell Family
5. Bullying, Psychology Today
6. Kathirasen A, Bullying: Education ministry’s big time failure, 2022, FMT
7. Amar S, Yuenwah S, Anit R et al, Will the Ministry of Education take responsibility for the safety of our children?, 2023, The Borneo Post
8. Cyberbullying statistics 2018-2023, Comparitech