Thursday, 11 January 2018

Making bullying uncool in Central Java

by Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Tika, right, stands with fellow change-maker Sri in Semarang. The two say they are proud to be taking a stand against bullying © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Central Java: Daylight is fading as Tika, 14, sits down, brushes the lint off her pants, and begins to recall a memory she can’t quite shake.

“My classmates put a bucket over my head,” she says softly. “Then they took turns hitting me.” 

Three years later, the pain is still raw. “I still don’t know why they [my classmates] did it,” she says. 

It’s a question thousands of Indonesian schoolchildren grapple with every day.

According to the latest data, over 1 in 5 children between 13-15 years of age – some 18 million children in total – have been bullied and another 1 in 3 children have been physically attacked in schools. 

For a Government committed to ending all forms of violence against children, schools are a key front in the battle.

“Bullying, both physical and verbal, has been proven to increase anxiety and diminish the self-esteem and sense of belonging necessary to learn and develop effectively,” says Emilie Minnick, UNICEF Indonesia Child Protection Specialist. “None of that bodes well if every child is to be empowered to realize their full potential.”

Roots, a new initiative launched by UNICEF and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, in partnership with an array of district governments and NGO partners, invites students to take the lead in addressing the peer-to-peer abuse.*

The basic idea is simple but powerful -- to create a space for a small group of students to probe the problem and define the solutions themselves.
Outside facilitators help keep order, but the programme is student-run.

“Then, during Roots Day and beyond, the goal is for students to take this learning outward to change attitudes,” Minnick says.

Student change-makers make final preparations a day before Roots Day at SMP 17 in Semarang © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Since its launch this year, the Roots Programme pilot has been rolled out at four middle schools in South Sulawesi and another four in Central Java.

In South Sulawesi, the Roots Programme saw a 30 per cent reduction in bullying following the intervention. “We’re excited about what this could mean for a scale-up nationally,” Minnick says.

Enlisting the ‘influencers’

Roots is more than a one-off event. It is the culmination of a semester-long process. 

Over that period, 30 girl and boy “change-agents” examine bullying from several angles to determine what it is and what should be done to stop it.

Among boys, Tika says, bullying often means physical violence. 

“Just last week I saw a boy get books thrown at him in class,” Tika says. According to government figures, more than a third of middle-school aged boys have been involved in a fight. “The incident should have been taken to the principal, but it wasn’t.” 

There can be a high tolerance of bullying, which is precisely what needs to change, Tika says.

Students at SMP 2 in Klaten, Central Java, come together to declare a new commitment to ending bullying during Roots Day © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017
For girls, the most popular form of bullying is to shame, or “hate” on another classmate, she says,. But by far the most common form is to play with names.**

It’s a subtle form of teasing, but it can lead to serious consequences, including school drop-out and long term psychological impact.

At SMP 17 Semarang, Tika was chosen as one of the 30 ‘agents of change’ whose task it was to interrogate bullying and plan Roots Day.

“The selection process is a key feature of the intervention,” says Naning Julianingsih, UNICEF Indonesia Child Protection Specialist. “We asked all the students to list the 10 people they spend the most time with, and those with the most mentions become a pool from which we drew 30.”

These are the students with the largest network of friends, and hence, “the most potential to influence attitudes widely,” she says.

At Tika’s school, a few of those chosen declined to join – at first. “I think it was because they were shy, as people knew they were bullies,” Tika says.

A few weeks later the students decided to join.

“That shows how peers can make anti-bullying campaigns ‘cool’, Naning says, “and bullying ‘uncool’. Even those who have been bullies themselves can be swayed to join."

So what’s next?

A student changemaker (centre) shares a laugh with her friend during Roots Day at Semarang 17 Middle School ©Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Roots Day is when all these lessons come together for the wider campus body. 

Photo booths, music, and other attractions help spread the message, but the most important aspect is the opening of the conversation, says change-agent Dzulfiqar, 14. “The best way to end bullying is to make sure friends talk to friends about it,” he says. “And that starts with Roots Day.”

Angun Tri Kusumawati of Indonesia’s Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry agrees its crucial to keep the momentum for change.

“Your awareness should be a virus,” she told students at SMP 17. “When you sneeze, others should catch it!” 

Tika nods. 

Roots Day has given her a way to process and move on from the painful memories of the past. “No-one should ever have to feel what I felt, and I want to help ensure 100 per cent of children are treated the same.”

As she rises to address her teachers, her shyness seems to have fallen away. She is beaming. 

“Jangan jadi bully (don’t become a bully),” she yells, as others join in. “Mari jadi pembela!” (Let’s become defenders!)

*Partner NGOs include Yayasan Indonesia Mengabdi, Yayasan Setara and LPA Klaten. 

**the name Joko, for example, is changed to ‘Jokododo’, which means (in Javanese language), ‘don’t tell anyone.’