Taking back power: Why I became Malaysia’s youngest MP

Last year, Nhaveen, a 17-year-old boy, was beaten by a gang of boys in an empty field. They thought he was too effeminate and wanted him to “man up.” After, Nhaveen fell into a coma and never woke up.

Bullying is an issue that is close to my heart. I grew up just 20 minutes from KLCC Twin Towers, in Kuala Lumpur, the tallest towers in the world when they were first built. It was a rough area back in the day; gangs roamed the streets, and bullying was rife.

I wanted to change this, not just for me but also for other young people. I have always been convinced that youth are an untapped resource with so much to give – we have energy, and our ideas do not have the burden of experience. This is the reason I decided to run for Member of Parliament (MP) earlier this year. I was elected. At the age of 22, I found myself the youngest MP in Malaysia’s history. It was exciting. And scary.

But I know I am not alone. Many other young people are trying to find a solution to the violence they witness around them. I learnt more when I joined UNICEF’s #ENDviolence Youth Talk in Malaysia: a panel discussion on bullying, with 50 students from across the country.

UNICEF consulted young people through the U-Report platform; about half of the students polled expressed that they have been bullied. Verbal and social bullying were identified as the most common types of bullying. Of those bullied, less than one in three would report the incident. The majority said they would not report being bullied as they believed it would not make a difference and were afraid of repercussions. We need to change that. We need to make schools safe. Childhood must be a time for children to learn free from violence, so they can grow into their full potential.

A man in a black suit speaks into the microphone he is holding.
© UNICEF/Malaysia/2018/Hyung Joon KimThe author and Malaysian MP, P Prabakaran addresses the audience as part of a panel at the #ENDViolence Youth Talk in Malaysia.

Dr. Goh Chee Leong, Professor of Psychology, also on the #ENDviolence Youth Talk panel, addressed the children at the event: “The fact that all of you are here and the spirit of today’s event is the right step forward; you’re taking power over the environment and saying that you’re not powerless to bullying – it’s in the things you have written, and the ideas you have presented.”

And that is just what we need – not giving the bullies power, but taking it back. We do this not through oppressing the bully in response, but by saying that they have no power over us. Speaking up is power; it comes with being an active participant in the conversation happening around us.

Speaking up is power; it comes with being an active participant in the conversation happening around us

The U-Report platform, with over 7,000 young participants, has gathered more than 2,000 suggestions on how to curb bullying. Young people in Malaysia have spoken; they want to overcome bullying with kindness, running campaigns beyond school, having adult role models, creating safe spaces, educating communities and more.

“I was bullied verbally, and isolated by my classmates. My parents gave me support and I learned how to depend on myself and believe that good things will come no matter what. Adults should take their children’s problems seriously like my parents did,” said Fina, 16, during the panel conversation, highlighting the importance of having a supportive community.

A large group of youth holding placards, postcards and signs that read 'Youth Talk'
© UNICEF/Malaysia/2018/Hyung Joon KimParticipants at UNICEF’s #ENDviolence Youth Talk in Malaysia: a panel discussion on bullying, with 50 students from across the country.

This is just the beginning. Young people have the solution. They want to live without fear of violence and with safe learning spaces. By being their representative in the highest office of the country, I have a platform – one I am sharing with its rightful owner, the young people of Malaysia. One conversation at a time, with kindness, we will take back the power.

On 6 September, the End Violence Against Children Safe in Schools campaign will launch globally. In Malaysia, The Ministry of Education, WOMEN:girls and UNICEF will concurrently launch a School Activation Kit calling for “Kindness” proposals from students as part of the School Kindness Project happening on 20 November in conjunction with World Children’s Day. The theme for World Children’s Day in Malaysia for 2018 is Kindness for Every Child as a solution to end bullying in and around schools and to make learning safe.

The ideas gathered at the #ENDviolence Youth Talk in Malaysia will be channelled to shape a global #ENDviolence Youth Manifesto to find solutions to end bullying in and around school.

 

P. Prabakaran is a law student who, at the age of 22, made history by becoming the youngest MP in Malaysia during the Malaysian General Elections in May 2018.

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