A recent study has found that 84 percent of children in Indonesia experience bullying, including violence, at school.
Words are sharper than swords.
Going to school each day is the scariest and most traumatic part of life for 16-year-old Andika, a second grader at a senior high school in Jakarta.
“I wake up every morning feeling so sick and scared, thinking about my classmates,” said Andika (not his real name). Every school day is a nightmare as he faces verbal, physical and emotional attacks.
His soft voice and small stature have made him an easy bullying target. Friends call him gay and queer because of his physical appearance, which they describe as gemulai (feminine).
The school toilets, locker rooms and classrooms have all become danger zones for Andika. “One day, the boys undressed me in the restroom to figure out whether I was straight or gay,” he recounted.
Andika is not alone. Thousands or perhaps millions of students
are struggling to cope with school bullies.
School is no longer a place to nurture passion for learning, but instead a fierce battlefield.
The 183 centimeter tall Martina has another heartbreaking story. This basketball star at a famous high school in Denpasar, Bali, is tired of being called a giant, a lesbian and an ogoh-ogoh (a giant, evil creature in Balinese culture) because of her muscled and sporty body.
“My friends often call me a tomboy pig, and both girls and boys seem to be reluctant to be friends with me,” she said.
One day, somebody posted mean and hurtful words on her Facebook account and made a Miss Piggy (from The Muppets) photo her profile photo.
Seto Mulyadi, a member of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), has expressed deep concern regarding this issue and has frequently called for urgent action.
“Violence and bullying in Indonesian schools have entered an emergency situation,” Seto stated in a recent seminar.
In the latest study, conducted in 2015, Plan International and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) found that 84 percent of children in Indonesia experienced various forms of violence in schools, including bullying.
Another study by UNICEF revealed that 50 percent of Indonesian youth aged between 13 and 15 years experienced school bullying.
Verbal bullying is reported to be the most common form, but social bullying such as exclusion is also prevalent, followed by physical bullying and sexual harassment.
In Indonesia, school violence including bullying is taking place in every educational setting from kindergarten to university.
While bullying and violence are not new to the Indonesian school system, these problems have become more frequent and are more vicious now than ever before, said Benny Prawira, founder of Into the Light — a youth organization working for the prevention of youth suicide.
For most young people, said Benny, the words “ugly, stupid, weird, gay, lesbian and bencong [transgender]” were insulting and could be hugely damaging to their self-esteem. Benny is also a member of the Youth Advisory Board of the National Center for the Prevention of Youth Suicide.
“When someone posts a nasty comment on Facebook or Twitter, it can be forwarded and retweeted hundreds of times instantly. And every bullied student feels that the world hates them. This desperate feeling is so unbearable that it can feel like the best solution for these students is to end their young lives in order to escape from real and cyber haters.”
Cyber bullying is also increasingly of concern, and often takes the form of online harassment accompanied by offline bullying, given young people’s widespread access to the Internet and mobile phones, according to the most recent UNESCO report, titled From Insult to Inclusion, Asia Pacific Report on School Bullying, Violence and Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“All over the world, young people are missing out on an education due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] learners,” said Justine Sass, chief of the HIV Prevention and Health Promotion unit at UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific region office in Bangkok and coauthor of the report, which was launched in early November.
“They suffer exclusion, harassment and discrimination including bullying from other students and even school staff. In the same way as discrimination based on race, sex, color, disability or religion is also unacceptable.”
To address the issues, UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Being LGBT in Asia jointly launched #PurpleMySchool campain, aimed creating safe spaces for LGBTI youth in educational settings in the Asia-Pacific region. The campaign ran until International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.
“A key part of UNESCO and UNDP’s mission is to enhance member states’ capacity to ensure that every child has access to quality education as a fundamental human right and as a prerequisite for full human development,” she added.
Bullying and harassment threaten this right by interrupting the attendance and participation in school of those affected and their quality of learning and school life.
“You don’t have to self-identify as LGBTI to be a target of sexual and gender-based bullying — young people who do not conform to strict norms around gender expression are also vulnerable,” added Lany Harijanti, program manager at UNDP Indonesia.
Hendri Yulius Wijaya, UNDP’s technical officer for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, said in Indonesia the #PurpleMySchool campaign — Stop Bullying, Hargai Perbedaan (Respect Diversity) — was being run through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For the campaign, the UNDP and UNESCO were collaborating with local civil society groups such as Sudah Dong (Enough is Enough), Into the Light and the Independent Youth Alliance.
In the campaign, students were invited to upload photos of themselves wearing purple shirts, or creating anything in purple, and share them through campaign.com/PurpleMySchool or upload them on social media with the hashtag #PurpleMySchool.
“The photos will be selected and presented during the international education ministers’ conference in Paris in May 2016,” Wijaya said.
Susi Fitri, chair of the Indonesia Guidance and Counseling Association’s Jakarta chapter, said many schools, teachers, parents and government officials in particular were still not taking school bullying problems seriously.
A study showed that four out of five teachers in Indonesia considered bullying a common and trivial issue.
“Many of them tend to oversimplify these bullying problems. Violence, including bullying, has been so pervasive in Indonesian schoolyards, while government officials tend to deny [this],” said Fitri, adding that the issue of bullying of LGBTI students was still a touchy issue in Indonesian schools.
School managers and teachers also prefer to “keep it silent” when bullying and violent action take place on their premises.
“Schools — especially the famed and prestigious ones — mostly keep these as ‘internal problems’ to avoid tarnishing the schools’ public image,” she added.
The #PurpleMySchool campaign is the social media arm of a broader program of support being led by UNESCO that aims to create safe spaces for all learners, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or any other characteristics.
“What the #PurpleMySchool campaign can do is raise awareness and initiate conversations on this topic that can serve as a catalyst to unite students, teachers and school leadership toward a common goal of creating positive, and sustainable changes in our schools,” Sass said.
— Photos courtesy UNESCO/UNDP