Government agencies are currently conducting a survey on the prevalence of bullying in schools, as they prepare to launch Brunei’s first nationwide anti-bullying campaign this July.

Officials said preliminary findings show there is an increase in the number of incidents at both primary and secondary schools, but would not disclose data until the study is complete.

The country’s last survey on bullying in 2014 revealed that 21 percent of students aged 13 to 17 experienced bullying at least once in the past month.

“When we say that the number of bullying cases has increased, it is probably because students are more aware of the need to report any incidents… Teachers are also more proactive in monitoring bullying in schools,” said Norsyahmun Matassan, a clinical psychologist at the Health Promotion Centre in Berakas. 

She explained that bullying can be both physical and verbal, such as name calling and spreading rumours, and increasingly takes place online. 

“We can’t share the data yet, but we do see a rise in cyberbullying,” she said, adding that there is a strong causality between suicide and bullying.

“Cyberbullying tends to be more covert and the victims are scared to share, so they hide it and what we can see is the ripple effect such as school absenteeism”.

File photo of a primary school in the Tutong district taken in March 2018. Brunei will be launching a nationwide anti-bullying campaign this July, as schools see a rise in reported incidents. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Norsyahmun said school absenteeism is a nationwide problem that stems from bullying: 

“If the parents asked their children [why they don’t want to go to school], they would say that they have a stomach ache or a headache. But when they are referred to a clinic, there is nothing wrong with them. They will then be referred to a psychologist — it’s then that we realise hat they are being bullied in school.”

The Health Promotion Centre and Department of Schools hope to release the findings of the study this July in conjunction with the launch of the “Brunei Bebas Buli” or “Bully-free Brunei” campaign.

The two-year campaign will be a multi-agency effort, bringing anti-bullying workshops to 159 schools across the country. The Health Promotion Centre hosted the first workshop on Friday for some 60 primary school students.

Norsyahmun added that there must be a collective effort to tackle bullying, to change the mindset that bullying is just part of growing up and children should just “deal with it”.