PETALING JAYA: A child rights activist is pushing for rehabilitation rather than punishment as a means of curbing cyberbullying.
James Nayagam spoke to FMT of what he called the “restorative system”, an approach that seeks to rehabilitate offenders through mediation.
“In this system, the bully and the victim meet face to face and have a conversation about what the bully has done and how to solve it,” he said.
Nayagam attended a United Nations conference on juvenile justice in 2016. He said Singapore, Australia and New Zealand were among the countries that agreed at the conference that restorative justice worked better than criminal justice.
In 2020, Malaysia ranked second in cyberbullying among youths in Asia, Unicef has reported.
Nayagam said he had many times used the restorative approach to solve juvenile criminal cases.
He especially remembers a cyberbullying case that he resolved five years ago.
“I was called to a school to help solve it. I spoke to both parties and eventually, the bully asked for forgiveness. I also talked to the victim’s parents into dropping the charges against the bully.
“Both the victim and bully are now in college, which would not be possible for the bully if he had been handed over to the police.
“I usually ask them if they want to talk it out or go to the police. So far, everyone has agreed to talk it out. But I believe that if it’s a serious crime such as rape and murder, it should be brought to the police and the courts.”
He cautioned against simply using the law or adding strict penalties, saying there would be a risk of turning offenders into outright criminals.
He said harsh laws might work for adults but would not help children as they were already in a vulnerable mental state.
Most bullies also came from broken homes and needed a chance to change.
As for additional help, Nayagam suggested an anonymous website or hotline for both bullies and victims to tell their stories.
“People need to remember that these are children or young adults who are overwhelmed and inexperienced in handling threats and the stress that follows. Both the bully and the victim need support,” he said.
However, Suhakam’s (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) children’s commissioner, Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, said Malaysia needed a better law against cyberbullying.
She said the current law did not hold social media platform providers accountable.
“Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which encompasses internet abuse, does not legally require them to maintain an adequate complaints system or block bullies from their platform,” she said.
Referring to an announcement last year that the communications and multimedia ministry would look into specific legislation for cyberbullying, Noor Aziah said it should place some responsibility on social media platform providers to investigate allegations of bullying as a first-line measure of preventing further harm to victims.
She also said there was a possibility that victims might think their problems were not worth reporting to authorities or that they simply did not know how to make a complaint.
“Adding cyberethics as a compulsory component in school lessons will keep them informed of the legal repercussions of what they are doing online,” she told FMT. “At the same time, children must be given tools or assistance by psychological experts on how to control or regulate their emotions.”
She also called for collaboration among the education ministry, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and mental health professionals in conducting regular awareness programmes on cyberbullying in schools.