Issues when fighting child sexual abuse

James Nayagam | 2 March 2017

Though the phrase ‘Fight Child Sexual Abuse’ sounds positive, yet one must realise the realities and challenges surrounding the effort. Otherwise, we may have the thought but meaningless and ineffective strategies to deal with the issues.

I am writing this as a child’s rights activist for over 35 years, having dealt with the issues relating to child sexual abuse. I have realised that whilst there may be good ideas and proposals, yet the issues have been lacked commitment, implementation, follow-up and change in our present system.

One must bear in mind that in Malaysia it takes about more than five years before a case of child sexual abuse is reported. During which time young girls are subjected to severe forms of sexual abuse and remain silent, unable to tell anyone about the abuse. Despite having education programmes in schools and other forms of services, yet in terms of effectiveness, nothing much has changed.

Suriana Welfare Society did a survey of the issues that affect child sexual abuse. When dealing with the issue of rape, we realise that a child had to face much trauma due to lengthy court proceedings, coupled with postponements that could go on for years before the court reaches a decision. By which time the child has forgotten the details of the rape.

Yet during this period, it’s the child who loses her freedom in that she is kept in a protection centre and the offender is still on the loose.

In some cases, the rapist may be allowed to marry the victim. Then again what choice has she when prematurely she loses her childhood and becomes a wife of an adult who raped her. Society seems to be ignorant to as whether she is ready for child-bearing and parenthood, and disregards the psychological damage that may impact her permanently.

In some states in Malaysia, incidences of incest appear prevalent but due to the standard of proof required, the cases are never reported and the situation continues to be a topic of discussion at every child-related seminar.

Richard Huckle’s case is an example of the weakness in our legal system. It was reported that he had sexually abused over 200 young children, the youngest being a six-month-old baby. Although could have been charged in Malaysia, but as to whether he would have been convicted is uncertain as there are no laws to punish effectively a paedophile on charges of with child pornography.

It simply shows that our system is outdated and change may take some time from the commencement of drafting new laws to discussions and to the implementation. One example being the Child Act, where it has taken almost 10 years for the amendments to be brought to Parliament.

Reservations over Sex Offenders Register

After the amendments to the Child Act, yet there is much debate over the Sex Offenders Register. Various agencies have declared their reservations over the use of the register. Some of the reasons being that there is already an existing police record of offenders and that such a register is a breach of one’s privacy.

Yet even with the register, only a few offenders are registered as in many cases, especially offences relating to fondling, pornography and other forms of sexual abuse are never brought to court due to weak investigation into the cases, and thus the prosecution is unable to proceed with the cases to be heard in court.

Experts tell me that an estimated 750,000 of cases of child abuse occur each year in Malaysia and a ratio that out of every 10 children, one is a victim of abuse. I cannot imagine the statistics for sexual abuse which takes place behind walls and in most cases, 80 percent of the abusers are known to the child.

With the issues mentioned above I would like to see one day an effective system to deal with the issue of child sexual abuse. Not just to spicy juicy talk and proposals but real commitment, action, implementation and follow-up.

We speak on behalf of babies, young children and young girls who at this very moment are being abused and their cries for help go unheard and justice is not seen done.

James Nayagam is the chairperson of Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia.

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