Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Updated: April 25, 2019 07:04 AM GMT
In this April 15 photo, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Susana Yembise (wearing pink scarf) speaks to three senior high school students accused of severely beating a younger student in Pontianak, capital of Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province. (Photo supplied by Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry)
Character building, especially in schools, became a hot topic in Indonesia this month after an extreme case of bullying involving a 14-year-old schoolgirl went viral.
The girl from Pontianak in West Kalimantan province was so savagely beaten by several older schoolgirls that she ended up in intensive care for two weeks.
Her alleged crime was posting comments on social media about a romantic dispute involving one of the attackers.
News of the beating began circulating on social media when her family filed a police complaint against the girls.
The incident sparked public outrage. So far nearly four million people have signed an online petition demanding the girls be prosecuted and not benefit from an out-of-court settlement.
What made this case stand out was its severity, but Indonesia finds itself in the grip of a major problem as bullying is rampant in schools, according to child protection groups including the United Nations.
More than one in five children aged between 13-15 — about 18 million — have experienced bullying such as racial slurs and derogatory comments about their appearance, while one in three have been physically attacked in schools, UNICEF says.
“The number of bullying cases in Indonesia is pretty high. Bullying occurs both directly and in cyberspace and ranges from verbal to physical abuse. Most cases, however, involve cyberbullying,” says Retno Listyarti, education commissioner at the Indonesian Child Protection Commission.
One study conducted by Triantoro Safaria a PhD student at Ahmad Dahlan University in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, found that 89 per cent of students in 102 of the city’s high schools had experienced cyberbullying at least once.
“The impacts of bullying, particularly cyberbullying, on children are pretty serious. These include a lack of privacy which influences children’s psychological growth, yearning for vengeance which can perpetuate bullying or lead to violence, and the feeling of being isolated and even suicidal,” says Listyarti.
Back in 2015, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, then social minister, said 40 percent of children who were committing suicide did so as a result of bullying.
The Jakarta-based National Council of Catholic Education, locally known as MNPK, believes bullying is the result of poor character building in the education system.
“Many schools focus on academic achievement and neglect the development of social skills such as communication and respect for others,” the council chairman, Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, says.
The proper way to instill character building in schools is by integrating such activities into all subjects taught and which should be backed up outside the classroom, both at school and at home.
“Teachers should create a comfortable atmosphere for their students. They must be amiable and willing to listen to their students and not inclined to pick on those they don’t warm to,” says the Franciscan priest.
Catholic schools tend to be an exception as the Catholic education ethos stresses self and mutual respect, he added.
Recently, 73 Catholic schools co-authored a book titled Child Protection Protocol, which sets out guidelines obliging teachers to protect vulnerable students and clamp down on bullying.
“We want this implemented in the teaching-learning process and all activities in schools,” says Frans Wahyu Prihono, headmaster of Strada St. Anna Junior High School in East Jakarta.
Brigitta Valentina Jessica, a second grader at Fons Vitae 1 Senior High School, a Catholic school in East Jakarta, says adopting this attitude works.
“I’ve never seen any bullying in my school. Teachers take action every time a student behaves improperly. Their parents are also invited to the school so that discipline can be reinforced at home,” she says.
Developing a child's character should not rest solely with schools as parents have a huge responsibility in ensuring their children can interact properly with others, according to Father Mbula.
If parents educate their children in violent ways, children tend to do the same to others, he says. “Character building at home is also very important and needs to be addressed as many children who commit bullying come from troubled families.”
His view is backed by the Education and Culture Ministry, which says families should do more for character building.
Indonesia’s leading daily newspaper, Kompas, recently quoted Arie Budiman, a ministry official, saying that the recent case involving the 14-year-old girl would most likely not have happened if both the school and her attackers’ families had paid more attention to character building.
For Bonifasius Riwu, a Catholic father of two, telling his children about self and mutual respect should be second nature as a parent. “I never get bored of doing this every day,” he says.