BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Cyberbullying is a widespread issue that needs to remedied, as it has a profoundly detrimental effect on the mental and emotional health of children, a group of ASEAN youth delegates has said. 

Speaking to The Scoop at the close of the 5th ASEAN Children’s Forum on Wednesday, several young delegates to the biennial meeting shared one common problem experienced by Southeast Asian youth: cyberbullying.

“With every child or teenager owning technology nowadays, cyberbullying is something that I see everywhere, especially in schools. It’s a big concern in my opinion,” said 14-year-old Asmiratul Jasmin Md Rhyme, a delegate from Brunei.

Asmiratul Jasmin Md Rhyme, 14, a local participant of the 5th ASEAN Children’s Forum held in Brunei from Aug 6 to 8. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

She said despite cyberbullying being fairly common, she felt it was still largely ignored by adults.

The fear of falling victim to online harassment has kept Asmiratul off all social media platforms, with the student saying she’s not prepared to handle the way negativity can multiply so quickly online.

“Cyberbullies often go for the weak people, they go for the students who are thought to be vulnerable or gullible by their peers, it always starts with just a joke,” she explained. “But they don’t realise that sometimes the hurt that it causes can run deep.”

Brunei’s last survey on school bullying in 2014 revealed that 21 percent of students aged 13 to 17 experienced bullying at least once in the past month. In July, several government agencies launched an anti-bullying campaign that will be taken to 159 schools across the country.

Another young delegate to the children’s forum, Nabila Ishma Nurhabibah from Indonesia, added that being bullied on such a public platform such as social media can provoke shame and embarrassment.

Nabila Ishma Nurhabibah, 17, an Indonesian participant of the 5th ASEAN Children’s Forum held in Brunei from Aug 6 to 8. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

“Mental health is a serious issue right now. A young person can easily experience depression nowadays, whether due to pressure by the family, society or school, and even due to cyberbullying,” she said.

“These negatives feeling will often cause children to not only suffer from depression but also from suicidal thoughts.”

For 16-year-old Ryan Tan, the detrimental effect of cyberbullying also affects the victims’ performance in school.

“With depression, it is very difficult for someone, especially children, to move forward with education, it is one thing that really hinders someone’s mental and emotional performance.

The Singaporean said while he hasn’t experienced online harassment, he was bullied as a child due to his disability. Ryan suffers from cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills, leaving him wheelchair-bound.

Ryan Tan, 16, a Singaporean participant of the 5th ASEAN Children’s Forum held in Brunei from Aug 6 to 8. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

He recalled how a classmate made fun of his left ear — which was underdeveloped due to his health issues — and how hurtful it was that he still remembers it until today.

“The comment felt so painful [but] now I often tell myself that no matter what people say about you, it’s up to you to decide the outcome.”

Ryan said family needs to play a central role in mitigating bullying and cyberbullying, by encouraging children to uphold the value of respecting others, while also providing a pillar of support to children who are victims of ill-treatment.

The three-day ASEAN Children’s Forum themed “Our children, our future, our ASEAN” was held in Bandar Seri Begawan from August 6 to 8. The meeting gathered child rights activists from across Southeast Asia to discuss how to improve the lives of children across the region. For the first time, the forum also included child delegates aged 12 to 17.