After revelations of bullying at a prominent Jakarta high school last week shed light on an ingrained culture of violence that is overlooked and even condoned by authorities, child rights activists and schools are striking back.
Diena Haryana, chairwoman of Sejiwa, a nonprofit organization that seeks to eradicate violence in education, said she believes there is a way to change bullies’ and victims’ way of thinking and end the cycle of violence.
This cycle, she said, is fed by environmental factors such as the behavior of parents and neighbors and trends in social media.
“You could say we’re in the midst of an emotional crisis these days, where people get easily angered over the smallest things, which sets a really bad example for children who tend to copy those actions,” Diena said.
Last week, parents of 15 freshmen from State Senior High School (SMAN) 70 filed a report on bullying at the school with the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak).
One of the parents said bullying there was a deeply ingrained tradition and that as well as traditions of violence, older students also passed on anti-authority doctrines to their younger peers.
“First, don’t respect the teachers. Second, disobey the parents and third, be enemies with the police,” he said.
To address cases like these, Sejiwa is taking its fight against bullying to the source of the problem — parents, teachers and student representatives.
“What we’re training them to take up is positive disciplining, teaching them how to respect one another’s weaknesses, be responsible for their mistakes and also nurture in them the mindset that children have rights that are protected by law,” Diena said.
The reason the adults are being targeted over violence among schoolchildren is simple, she said: they wield tremendous influence over children and must set the right example.
“First of all, we can’t separate the victims from the perpetrators in cases of bullying because we often see teachers and parents taking sides and blaming one party outright without looking at the circumstances that allow the bullying to take place,” she said.
Once bullying occurs and the school becomes aware of it, she went on, the school authorities need to immediately counsel the bully and victim.
“That’s precisely why we have counselors in schools, but sometimes they miss it,” Diena said.
One school taking part in Sejiwa’s “Stop Bullying — Learn in Peace” campaign, which runs from Oct. 10 to Nov. 10, is Al Azhar in Pondok Labu, South Jakarta.
Sari Nurhadian, a school spokeswoman, said the number of reported incidents of bullying there had decreased since the campaign began, though the practice was not fully eradicated.
“We can’t say that it’s been wiped out, because bullying can still occur in more subtle ways,” she said.
She added that Al Azhar, an Islamic school, had long carried out a series of seminars and workshops for students and teachers to campaign against bullying.
Diena conceded that her organization’s monthlong campaign, limited to a handful of schools in Jakarta, fell short of effectively tackle bullying in schools, but she said she hoped it would trigger others, particularly the government, to do more.
“It’s an important issue, but I don’t see all that much commitment from the government to address it,” she said.