SEVERE bullying has been known to drive victims to suicide, but bullying resulting in death? In the past month alone, there have been two incidents where two students, one still a teenager, were murdered by their peers. Premeditated or otherwise, the end result has been tragic, not least for the families left behind. The case of the naval cadet officer at the National Defence University of Malaysia (UPNM) was especially galling. What are such horribly behaved young men — five were charged with murder and several more with voluntarily causing hurt — doing in a training academy that requires discipline above all else to succeed? And, in Penang, a victim was pronounced brain dead, and later died on Thursday, five days after he was viciously assaulted by a group of youth. In both cases, the perpetrators were aged between 16 and 21. The victims, too; the former 21 and latter 18.
The apparent increase in deaths and serious injuries caused by bullies involving students, intentionally or not, is of great concern. While indiscipline is an obvious factor and pranks the most common form of bullying that can get out of hand, it does not explain, for instance, the 2015 death in a vocational college in Bachok, Kelantan, when a senior who took umbrage against a “disrespectful” junior beat the latter to death. Surely, an element of mental instability on the part of the assailant cannot be discounted?
At one level, therefore, school bullies are dysfunctional children with discipline problems. This starts from the primary school level and can probably be blamed on bad nurturing and parental neglect. Children from families where role models have questionable attitudes cannot escape repeating what they see. Schools, then, should play a constructive role by attempting to reform the bully and work together with parents. Of course, when the problem is ignored, it festers. Once, it was said that corporal punishment helped to deter bullies. But, violence begets violence, and today, corporal punishment is viewed as abuse. Against corporal punishment is the argument that positive discipline would do better in nurturing and guiding children to become better human beings. This modern way of thinking involves engaging children rather than alienating them through physical punishment.
The United Nations Children’s Fund has a handbook for this purpose — imparting discipline “without lifting a hand”. Granted, it is more involved than a swift flick of the cane, but in engaging the child to, firstly, understand the offence and, secondly, to administer the appropriate punishment should result in a less aggressive adult. But, having said that, can positive discipline overcome psychopathic tendencies? Or, must caregivers be on the lookout for children with mental problems? There is no one approach in reforming bullies. As it is, the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 shows a 20.3 per cent psychiatric morbidity in Malaysian children and adolescents, hence, it is a problem that needs our undivided attention to, first, assess and evaluate where we have gone wrong to produce such monsters, and second, to find the remedy for it.