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14 yr-old Indonesian junior high school student sets school on fire due to bullying by peers; Authorities face criticism over incident and its aftermath

CENTRAL JAVA, INDONESIA — Last week, news spread about a 14-year-old junior high school student identified as R who set fire to his school, SMP Negeri 2 Pringsurat, in Temanggung Regency.

The incident occurred in the early hours of Tuesday (27 Jun). The case of the student burning the school was triggered by feelings of resentment due to constant bullying by his peers.

R was frequently teased, isolated, and even physically assaulted by his classmates. In response to the incident of physical assault, the school only called the students involved without imposing any sanctions.

Furthermore, R also felt mistreated by some of his teachers.

One of his teachers had torn up his work during a handicraft class in front of him and his classmates. “My efforts are not respected (by the teacher), they tore apart my assignment in front of me,” said R.

Currently, R has been officially named a suspect.

“R is officially a suspect. The basis for this is the discovery of several pieces of evidence at the scene and from the school’s CCTV footage,” said Temanggung District Police Chief, AKBP Agus Puryadi in Temanggung, as reported by Antara on Wednesday, June 28, 2023.

R is charged under Article 187, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph e of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP; Kitab Undang-Undang Hukkum Pidana) for intentionally setting fire to his own school, endangering the public. The 14-year-old teenager faces a maximum sentence of half the maximum penalty for adults.

“In addition, we will assess the mental condition of the perpetrator in relation to the various incidents he has experienced, which led him to set the school on fire,” added Agus.

Netizens sympathetic towards suspect due to his circumstances

“This is terrible; the teacher cannot appreciate the process. Such behavior is unacceptable for a teacher. It is not educational at all,” tweeted the user ikainhere on Twitter.

The user lungarepapnjir also commented, “Why isn’t the teacher being exposed?”

Another user, AhmadSahidah, wrote, “I would never tear up a student’s work. Students are a reflection of their teacher’s abilities.”

Responding to the school burning incident, the Principal of SMP Negeri 2 Pringsurat, Bejo Pranoto, stated that R was a student who often sought attention from teachers.

“This child indeed seeks more attention from teachers. He often causes trouble. Whenever he makes a mistake and is called by a teacher, he doesn’t dare to come. He pretends to vomit, pretends to be possessed. Basically, he craves attention compared to his classmates,” said Bejo, as quoted from the KompasTV YouTube channel.

Regarding Bejo’s seemingly accusatory statement, the Chairman of the Expert Council of the Federation of Indonesian Teachers’ Unions (FSGI; Federasi Serikat Guru Indonesia), Retno Listyarti, commented that the school authorities did not understand the psychological condition of R as a child.

“It seems that the school does not understand R’s psychological condition,” said Retno in a statement received by on Saturday, July 1, 2023.

She further explained, “Vomiting could be a manifestation of stress experienced by R since people who are stressed often have digestive problems. Stressed individuals sometimes also experience possession-like episodes, as if they are seeing other beings.”

The Secretary-General of FSGI, Heru Purnomo, also urged SMP Negeri 2 Temanggung to be more responsive to cases of bullying.

“If the school can effectively handle acts of violence that occur within the school environment, the victims will recover, and the perpetrators will realize their mistakes and not repeat them,” said Heru.

FSGI urged the Education Office of Temanggung Regency to create a safe school environment by implementing Minister of Education and Culture Regulation No. 82 of 2015 concerning the Prevention and Handling of Violence in Educational Units.

“Unfortunately, the establishment of task forces and complaint systems mandated by this regulation has not been widely implemented in schools,” said Retno.

In light of the recent incident where a student burned down his school due to frequent bullying, the role of Guidance and Counseling (BK) teachers as a prevention and handling unit for violence in schools has come under scrutiny.

It remains unclear whether the BK teacher had intervened in handling the bullying case experienced by the student, identified as R.

In Minister of Education and Culture Regulation No. 111 of 2014, it is explained that Guidance and Counseling is a systematic, objective, logical, continuous, and programmed effort carried out by counselors or Guidance and Counseling teachers to help students better understand themselves, understand others, and be able to solve problems, make choices, and develop their potential in accordance with their interests and talents.

“There’s no use having BK teachers in schools,” commented the user NaningNurwahyu.

Another user, zupe009, tweeted, “This is proof that schools have never cared about bullying. They are more concerned with trivial matters like haircut styles, shoe colors, and so on.”

Investigation into the presence of firearms during police press conference

Furthermore, netizens also expressed their opinions regarding the actions of the Temanggung District Police, who presented R, a child facing legal charges, in a press conference held at the Temanggung District Police Station on Sunday, July 2, 2023.

“What’s the difference between being arrested and showcased in the media and being bullied?” commented the user reazrrr.

May I ask, Mr. Agus (Temanggung District Police Chief AKBP Agus Puryadi). This is not the way to do it, with police officers guarding him with long firearms. This child is not a terrorist but a victim of bullying. Is this your way in accordance with police standard operating procedures?” the user indah_suwondo added.

In the press conference, R was seen wearing a balaclava that covered his head, with only his eyes visible. Next to him stood police officers carrying long firearms.

The National Police Commission (Kompolnas) has requested the Internal Affairs Division (Propam) of the Central Java Regional Police to conduct an investigation into the use of long firearms during the press conference.

Kompolnas member, Poengky Indarti, stated that the incident strongly suggests a procedural error in handling children facing legal charges. She emphasized the need for an examination to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

“Kompolnas recommends that the Propam Division of the Central Java Regional Police conduct an examination under the supervision of the Regional Inspector of Supervisors (Irwasda; Inspektur Pengawas Daerah) as the Internal Supervisor. We hope that incidents like this will not occur again,” said Poengky in a brief message on Monday, July 3, 2023.

Poengky explained that Article 19 of the Juvenile Justice System Act (SPPA; Undang-Undang Sistem Peradilan Pidana Anak) stipulates that the identity of children must be kept confidential. However, the Temanggung District Police displayed R during the press conference, albeit with a mask.

“In addition, the presence of police officers in uniform and armed weapons only demonstrates inhumane treatment towards the child,” added Poengky.

“This should serve as a lesson for the Temanggung District Police and others handling cases involving children facing legal charges to exercise caution and adhere to the Juvenile Justice System Act and Child Protection Act,” she concluded.

Following the uproar caused by the press conference involving a child facing legal charges, the Head of the Public Relations Division (Kabid Humas) of the Central Java Regional Police, Commissioner Iqbal Alqudussy, issued an apology.

“Regarding the press conference that presented a child facing legal charges and became controversial, the Central Java Regional Police apologizes to all parties if the execution of the press conference on the successful resolution of the school burning case in Temanggung was deemed unsatisfactory,” he said, as quoted from the Instagram post @humas_polres_temanggung.

Iqbal further emphasized that the Internal Affairs Division (Propam) has taken internal steps. “Regarding the exposure carried out by the Temanggung District Police, we are currently gathering information,” he stated firmly.

Violence against children in school environments, a troubling trend

The case of R adds to the growing list of violence against children in school environments. The Federation of Indonesian Teachers’ Unions (FSGI) recorded that in the first two months of 2023 alone, there were six cases of bullying or physical violence and 14 cases of sexual violence in educational institutions.

Retno Listyarti stated that during the period of January-February 2023, there was one case of bullying in an elementary school, one case in a MTs (Islamic junior high school), one case in a boarding school, and three cases in vocational schools (SMKs).

Among the various cases, the most attention-grabbing incidents were the burning of a 13-year-old student by senior students in Pasuruan Regency, East Java, and the alleged suicide of an 11-year-old elementary school student in Banyuwangi Regency due to bullying.

Meanwhile, based on data from the Data and Information Center of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI; Komisi Perlindungan Anak Indonesia) up till 31 March 2023, a total of 64 reports of violence against children in educational institutions were received this year.

“The reported forms of violence in educational institutions include physical violence, bullying, sexual violence, discrimination against educational policies, and policies of regional governments that do not prioritize the principles of children’s participation rights,” said Ai Maryati Solihah, Chairperson of KPAI in Jakarta on 5 May 2023.

“Children, as the future generation of the nation, have the right to receive education services as mandated by Article 31, paragraph 1 of the 1945 Constitution, as well as effective protection in educational institutions as mandated by Article 54, paragraph 1 of Law Number 35 of 2014 concerning Child Protection,” Maryati added.

KPAI urged both public and religious educational institutions to remain committed to eradicating the three major sins in education, namely bullying, sexual violence, and intolerance, by enforcing regulations, norms, and ethical behavior that respect child protection.

It is hoped that this incident will prompt the relevant authorities to take immediate action to address bullying and ensure the psychological well-being of students, as well as promote a safe and inclusive learning environment.

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