Malaysian children abused
10,000 child abuse cases in four years
ALMOST 4,000 children in Malaysia were rescued from various abuses by the Social Welfare Department from 2008 till July this year.
Such are the alarming figures shown in the latest statistics from the department, whose officers have offered protection to children under-18 from a litany of abuses — including sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Abandonment and neglect were other problems.
What’s more worrying is that these are just the officially reported cases. Case reports for the later half of this year have yet to be compiled, with more child abuse reports forecasted. In 2006 and 2007, the number of child abuse cases for both years stood at 4,278. Judging by the steady rise in cases reported, it is feared that Malaysia would have recorded 10,000 cases in just the last four years.
Social Welfare Department children’s division director Nor Amni Yusof said this tragic rise may be attributed to the economic and social situations of modern families.
“We have mothers and fathers who have lesser parenting skills, who do not care about their children, as well
as quarreling spouses who cause the child to be the victim,” she said.
Nor Amni said the country’s development is not at par with its social development. “Families stressed by poverty are releasing their frustrations on children. Another example is those who come from rural villages,
who cannot take the culture shock of living in the city,” said Nor Amni.
From the numbers made available to Malay Mail, girls make up the bulk of abused children (see accompanying story). Over 19 months till July, the department took in as many as 1,033 sexually abused girls. From these,
689 girls were sexually abused by a parent or guardian or a member of the extended family.
Worse still, the remaining 344 were sexually abused — but their parents or guardians did nothing to stop it.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said that when a child complains that “someone touched me” the person to whom the child complained to should take the matter seriously and immediately call the Department of Social Welfare, police or Talian Nur so that action can be taken to rescue the child.
“Children do not lie about such matters. A child who is abused will be traumatised and will need counseling and professional intervention by a child psychologist or psychiatrist.
“Non-abusing parents usually keep silent about the abuse because of fear, hopelessness and isolation or lack
of support from other family members,” she said.
“The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development takes this issue very seriously and will not hesitate to take legal action on those found guilty of causing harm, injury and death to children,” Sharizat said.
Child abuse is an offence under Section 31 of the Child Act 2001. A person found guilty of such an offence can be fined not more than RM20,000 or jailed for not more than 10 years or both.
In cases of child abuse resulting in death, such cases are usually charged under the Penal Code as culpable
homicide and punishable by death.
Shahrizat said the Department of Social Welfare has always placed paramount focus on the safety of children. She said the National Child Policy and the National Child Protection Policy were approved by the Cabinet on July 29 this year.
Both these policies ensure the rights of children to survival, protection (from all forms of neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation), development and participation. It also provides guidelines to various agencies, non-governmental organisations, volunteers and the community to work together to ensure that children grow
up in a safe and conducive environment.
Girls the main target for sexual abuse
GIRLS are more than 10 times likely to be sexually abused compared to boys. Statistics showed that for this year till July, there were only 21 sexually-abused boys aged below 18 — while there were 335 girls. For the whole of last year, 35 boys were reported to have been abused sexually as compared to 698 girls.
University Malaya Medical Centre senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist Dr Subash Kumar told Malay
Mail it is more common for girls to be abused, especially sexually.
“Some cases are committed by serial killers or psychopaths. Unfortunately, such abuse is committed by someone the child knows and often takes place in their own homes. It could be their father, mother, religious teacher, uncle or even grandfather.”
Boys are commonly victims of physical or emotional abuse. This, Dr Subash said, is when a child is subjected to an unsuitable environment such as a home where parents are drunkards.
Other situations could occur if the mother or father had been married multiple times. “Where there is no love, the child suffers. For example, if the parents are just too busy and leave the children to becompletely raised by maids, where a child if often yelled at, not provided adequate food and shelter or even left to be raised in a welfare home as the parents cannot take care of them.”
Dr Subash — who specialises in cases dealing with children, adolescent and adults — said child abuse is a big problem in the country.
Social Welfare Department children’s division director Nor Amni Yusof said the department has noted a number of reasons why girls seem to be the more common abuse target.
“Firstly, young girls are usually weaker and more afraid of things and people. This is what the abuser exploits.
Also, girls are seen as being more cute and cuddly, therefore are an ‘encouragement’ to people with paedophiliac tendencies,” she said.
Nor Amni said there are those who themselves were abused in childhood and so they too abuse their child the
same way, or worse.
“We have also seen mothers or stepmothers who are abusive due to jealousy of their husbands being close with their daughters,” she added.
Most abusers come from Selangor
STATISTICS from the Social Welfare Department revealed that child abuse cases were reported mostly in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang since 2006.
At the other end of the scale, Labuan had no child abuse cases reported, while the lowest number of cases over this period were reported in Sabah (34) and Kelantan (63). At 2,656 cases, Selangor had the worst record — with over 1,000 more reports compared with Kuala Lumpur (1,646) and Penang had 709 reported cases.
Social Welfare Department children’s division director Nor Amni Yusof said that among reasons these three States had higher numbers recorded was because they had a higher population compared with other States.
“The influx of illegal immigrants into these States is also rising each year. That has also had an impact on the social interaction and culture of residents.”
The higher numbers reported could also be due to residents making the effort to actually lodge child abuse or neglect reports since they’re aware of who to contact in such matters.
“We’ve had a high number of awareness programmes in these three States, which leads to more people knowing where to make complaints. Also, we’ve had an increasing number of NGOs that are fighting for the rights of children,” said Nor Amni.
University Malaya Medical Centre senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist Dr Subash Kumar said that the higher population in cities does not mean abuse hardly happens in smaller towns.
“When we go and visit inmates in prison, there are child abusers who come from smaller towns and kampungs. Bear in mind that many people in large towns are those who have moved there from smaller towns,” he said.
The number of child abuse cases could seem to be lower in smaller States because many probably go unreported — due to the stigma and shame that comes attached with the offense, said Dr Subash.
As for larger cities, with a denser population, there are also more opportunities for perpetrators to commit child abuse.
“People there are more stressed. There are also people without jobs and cities attract all sorts of people, be it the sane or insane,” he added.
Psychological consequences of abuse
THE most prevalent form of child abuse, based on local report statistics, is neglect and abandonment. While these have long-term consequences on a child’s development, the more headline-grabbing forms include physical and sexual abuse — based on records revealed by the Social Welfare Department.
Still, Universiti Malaya Medical Centre Psychiatry Adolescent and Child (PAC) Unit, head Assoc Prof Dr Aili Hanim Hashim, said such numbers are probably the “tip of the iceberg” as there is under-reporting of cases and many more cases are not made known or reported to social welfare officers.
Dr Aili said children not only suffer from the physical and mental cruelty of child abuse, they also endure many long-term consequences.
“Immediate effects of child abuse can be extremely serious, especially for infants. Some of these serious injuries and fatalities result from shaking and injuries obtained during the first 12 months of life.
“One can never imagine what it is really like for the child, who is at risk to many behavioural and emotional problems. Emotional consequences may include apathy, depression, hostility or stress, lack of concentration, eating disorders, self-harm, feeling powerless, betrayed and stigmatised.
“Girls tend to internalise their difficulties while boys will externalise their difficulties and use aggression, modeling the behavior they have been exposed to. Girls are more likely to be depressed.” Dr Aili said children who are abused are more likely to become victims of abuse later in life.
“An abused victim would feel uncared for, confused, rejected, deserted. They are also more likely to become abusers and have mental difficulties, which could lead to violent criminal activityin the future.
Dr Aili said an abused child would tend to constantly get into trouble, be unable to keep a stable job, have arguments and fights or conflicts — over and over again.
“They would have poor attachments with careers, peers and parents. They also tend to misperceive or to misinterpret situations and get overly suspicious.”
In other cases, abused children would themselves turn sexually aggressive and victimise their peers or younger children. She said research has shown promiscuity and compulsive sexual behavior are among the best established after-effects.
“They may have an aversion to sex and have flashbacks to the molestation experience, have negative attitudes toward their sexuality and their bodies. They would have difficulties in theirsexual relationships.
“Re-victimisation is also a common phenomenon among people abused as children. Child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be the victims of rape or to be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults.”
How a victim turns out varies — said Dr Aili — saying it all depends on the circumstances of the abuse and the child’s developmental stage.