Indonesian Students Run Amok
Oei Eng Goan
In 1955, Warner Bros. released “Rebel Without a Cause,” a film dealing with the violence and brutality of American teenagers. In one of the scenes, we see a horrifying duel between youngsters armed with switchblades, fighting only to prove that they’re not chicken-hearted.
Similar violence sporadically occurs today on the streets of Jakarta and other Indonesian cities when groups of students, arming themselves with stones, motorcycle chains, machetes and bamboo spears, fight against each other over trivial matters such as name-calling or an exchange of hostile glares.
There have been at least 140 student brawls reported across the country during the first seven months of the year, claiming at least 13 lives and leaving hundreds others injured. Last year, 82 students were killed in street brawls, according to data from the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak).
These numbers have rightly raised concern, prompting people to demand answers about why school authorities and the National Police have failed to take the necessary steps to reduce the intensity of these incidents that often disrupt the peace and damage public property.
How do teachers not notice that students are carrying weapons to school instead of textbooks? How can homeroom teachers not notice the changes in their students, especially those who are preparing their weapons in school before engaging in violent street fights?
School principals and officials shirk responsibility for what is taking place in their institutions. It is their duty to monitor not only the teaching process and the quality of the lessons being taught, but also the actions of students who bully their younger classmates and take part in gang fights.
Bullying can become a serious crime when it physically harms the victims. That happened two weeks ago to scores of new students at Don Bosco high school in Pondok Indah, a leafy residential area in South Jakarta.
The students were beaten, kicked, burned with cigarettes and threatened at knifepoint by some seniors, who forced them to carry heavy stones above their heads and drink beer during the school’s orientation period. This brutal behavior became public knowledge only after parents of the victims reported the incident to the police.
Juvenile delinquency is a problem that is prevalent in many countries. Unless the problem is jointly solved by the police, school officials and community members, it could spiral out of control and create more complex problems.
Studies have shown that in many cases, delinquents are young people who are neglected by their parents. Lack of parental care makes them feel alienated and they believe that their violent behavior is their only escape from boredom, poverty and other social problems.
Other studies have found that “many delinquents had parents with whom they did not get along or who were inconsistent in their patterns of discipline.”
This means that instilling strict and consistent discipline into our young people is important. Parents must not hesitate to punish their mischievous children to teach them a lesson. Teachers, apart from giving lessons, must also educate students to respect differences of opinion and to adopt the good conduct and a positive lifestyle expected of responsible citizens.
Creative extracurricular activities such as band or school dramas can help break up a student’s routine of reading textbooks. Additional knowledge of art might heighten their awareness of the importance of friendship, and deepen their understanding of human values.
Efforts to reduce, if not stop, student brawls will only yield results if the government and public work together to implement a rigid and fair legal system. We must also ensure the appointment of professional school principals and education officials who can give students guidance and counseling.
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.