The Child Act 2001 (Act 611) defines a “child” as a person under the age of 18.
Every year in Malaysia, 1,000 children are reported to be victims of child abuse and neglect, showing an upward trend since 2019.
Needless to say, the causes or factors behind the abuse are heartbreaking/heart-wrenching and tragic.
Children are abused and purposefully neglected by caretakers or someone they know due to a variety of reasons – some benign (e.g, difficulty in managing or responding to the hyperactivity of the child concerned, disabilities as another factor constraining the carer’s efforts, financial difficulties or challenges, etc.) while others occur simply because of malicious or malignant intent (ill-will of any kind).
Child abuse significantly impacts a child’s long-term physical and emotional health, well-being and development.
The World Health Organisation defines child abuse (or child maltreatment) as the abuse or neglect that occurs to children under 18 years old.
It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.
According to the Health Ministry (MOH), child abuse is the physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual abuse, neglect and negligent treatment of children, and their commercial or other exploitation. Child abuse is, generally, divided into four different categories: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in physical injury.
Sexual abuse involves pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviours such as fondling, penetration and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
Emotional abuse refers to behaviours that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being.
Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, access to medical care and having feelings validated and appropriately responded to. Although child abuse is relatively widespread in varying degrees, it is still grossly underreported.
The number of child abuse cases that are not reported indicates that the reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
In 2016 alone, nearly 5,000 children were reported by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to need protection from abuse.
Royal Malaysian Police Criminal Investigation Department director Datuk Seri Abdul Jalil said 531 child abuse cases were reported in the first eight months of 2022.
Whereas, for the first nine months of the previous year, a total of 472 child abuse incidents were reported by the Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division (D11).
Selangor has recorded the highest number of child abuse cases. According to the SWD, 1,910 child abuse and neglect cases were recorded from March 2020 until March 2022.
Selangor Younger Generation Development, Sports and Human Capital Development Committee chairman Mohd Khairuddin Othman said of the total, physical abuse was the most common (686 cases), followed by sexual abuse (606), neglect (555), and emotional abuse (63).
As for nationwide, the SWD under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (WFCDM) reported that 1,055 child abuse cases were recorded for the first six months of 2022 from January to June.
The then deputy minister Datuk Siti Zalilah Yusof said physical abuse constituted the highest category at 578 cases (54.8pc), followed by sexual abuse at 417 cases (39.6pc) and emotional abuse at 60 cases (5.6pc).
The trend “confirms/validates” a 2020 study by the Pediatrics Department of Hospital Serdang titled “Suspected child abuse and neglect cases in a single tertiary hospital in Malaysia – a five-year retrospective study”, where the findings show that physical abuse was the most common (55pc, or 216 cases) followed by sexual abuse (33pc or 130) and neglect (10pc or 41).
The perpetrators are usually family members such as biological parents or family members from the extended family.
The study shows that the most common perpetrators were biological parents (30pc) and babysitters (26pc).
Child abuse incidents also occur in nurseries (mainly unlicensed ones).
A total of 217 abuse cases involving children at childcare centres were recorded nationwide last year (January until December 2021). Furthermore, child abuse deaths are now at an alarming level.
According to a journal article titled, “Child Homicide Amounting to Murder in Malaysia: Descriptive Analysis of the Statistics and Causes”, the second highest motive of child homicide in Malaysia recorded from January 2010 to June 2021 is child abuse (80 cases or 22.9pc) which contributes almost a quarter of the total child homicide cases. Hence, there is a critical imperative in identifying and detecting child abuse cases early so that action can be taken before it leads to an even worse situation – death.
Based on the Out of the Shadows Index 2022, which is used to measure how 60 countries are preventing and responding to child sexual exploitation and abuse, Malaysia ranked 23rd out of 60 countries with a total score of 56.9, falling behind Indonesia (68.1), Thailand (58.7), Philippines (58.4) and Vietnam (58.4).
The two different pillars (prevention and response) were measured whereby Malaysia scored 51.8 out of 100 (prevention) and 61.9 out of 100 (response) respectively, which predominantly looked at the legislation, policies and programmes of a country and how effective the prevention measures were.
As such, Malaysia needs to have critical urgency to improve our legislation, policies and programmes to effectively address the child abuse problem whether it is physical, emotional, sexual or neglect because it is a truism and a self-evident truth that children as victims cannot stop child abuse – only adults can.
WFCDM should take the lead to improve its implementation of the National Child Protection Policy. For instance, by providing for the mandatory incorporation of the policy in all primary and secondary schools as well as international and private counterpart institutions.
In addition, a team, (e.g, the Child Protection Team comprising the social welfare officer, medical officer and a specialist from the police), should be dispatched to inspect and investigate schools and institutions to ensure and enforce compliance with the protocols of the policy.
Furthermore, WFCDM should also enhance primary care or outreach for children and organise training programmes to educate parents, especially young mothers or single parents, on parenting skills and styles that are formative in the children’s development.
WFCDM also should take more proactive measures and play a significant role in strategically collaborating with the police and the Home Affairs Ministry, MOH, Communications and Digital Ministry and Education Ministry (MOE) as the other stakeholders.
Additionally, child abuse prevention requires multi-sectoral collaboration and participation, including and extending to the private sector (in the form of their corporate social responsibility) and NGOs.
EMIR Research also would like to recommend the following policies:
– Foster care system
WFCDM should establish a systematic fostering agency eco-system (nationwide) to provide an alternative family for abused children (outside of the pre-existing children’s homes) – if need be – in the absence of extended family members.
Social workers or social service professionals can post-“clearance”/post-approval (where relevant and appropriate) and supervise and monitor the foster families regularly by having a one-to-one session with the child to get updates on their latest condition or situation.
– Child protection and recovery centres
These centres (which could serve as transitioning to the pre-existing children’s homes) should be established in every state and federal territory – both Peninsular and East Malaysia – so that the children can get treatment and recovery support for their abuse and trauma.
The focus is on implementing systematic and specialised programmes (by social service professionals, counsellors, psychologists and healthcare practitioners) for the children on the types of trauma and abuse they experienced.
– Strategic collaboration between MWFCD with PDRM and NGOs
WFCDM should provide enhanced training for social service professionals and volunteers from NGOs to enable early detection and identification of abuse and neglect. Due to the limited outreach of the services (such as counselling and advocacy) which are mainly accessible and available in major cities, strategic and long-term collaboration with NGOs can support and complement the government’s effort to reach out to abuse victims in other districts of the country.
– Partnership between WFCDM and MOE in educating children about their rights
MOE should empower and educate children about their rights, bodily propriety, physical (boundaries) and psychological (e.g, sexual grooming) safety and the steps that can be taken if they happen to become the victim of abuse via the classroom as well as online (e.g websites, TikTok, YouTube, etc.).
Teachers also play a crucial role in identifying, reporting and preventing child abuse and neglect cases.
The MOE should provide regular exposure and training for teachers in this regard via seminars and workshops.
– Establish a central data system to coordinate the recording and exchange of information by all ministries, agencies and NGOs
Data on reported child abuse cases are collected, recorded and compiled by various hospitals, police and the SWD separately. A central data system would allow for better monitoring and analysing (e.g, real-time) of the trends of child abuse more holistically (accessible by all stakeholders) and, thereby, enable quicker response and action to be undertaken.
– Farah Natasya is a research assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
Add a Comment