Tuesday, March 19

Why, oh why, do we keep on abusing our children?

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HOW do we feel every time we read about cases of children being abused — sad, angry, sick and very disappointed and disillusioned? It is difficult to comprehend why adults turn into animals and abuse innocent, helpless kids. Then again, some animals (even wild ones) will do anything to protect their young from harm. In a way, humans are no better than animals.Indeed, it is alarming to read with increasing regularity, news reports of adults subjecting young innocent children to violent acts of physical and mental abuse involving injury, neglect, exploitation and sexual acts. The people who harm children are evil and depraved. This year, three children have already died and at least two others sustained severe injuries from abuse. The stories are extremely distressing.

On Jan 7, a 15-year-old girl in Kampung Genting, Tumpat, in Kelantan suffered injuries all over her body after her father abused her with a hot iron and cane. Her mother was also guilty of repeatedly pulling her hair and slapping her before she set off for school.

The first victim, three-year-old Syafiah Humaira Sahari died after being abused at a football field in Ulu Yam Lama, Batang Kali, on Feb 25. Her internal injuries included bleeding in the head, abdomen and kidney, and bruises and scratches on her cheek, neck and back.

On March 3, 18-month-old K Harvesvarra died after being beaten by his babysitter’s husband in Kampung Sungai Ara, Damansara. He had six broken ribs and a ruptured liver.

On March 11, a month-old baby boy slipped into a coma and is still fighting for his life at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital. He was believed to have been abused by a couple in Taman PD Utama, Port Dickson.

Last week, on April 14, three-year-old Jasmine Lee from Bukit Serdang, died after being tortured for a month by her stepfather and her mother. Her injuries included the effects of blunt-force trauma and an infection of the lung lobe.

Police statistics show an increase in child abuse, molestation and rape. In 2005 there were 2,236 cases. In 2008, this had risen to 5,744. For the first seven months of 2009, 2,193 cases had already been reported.

The danger does not lie with strangers, but is closer to home. The covert nature of child abuse which normally takes place in the privacy of the home and frequently involving family members, makes it difficult to accurately assess the situation.

Studies worldwide have revealed that most crimes against children, principally those involving mistreatment and sexual abuse, are not committed by complete strangers but involve a relative or someone close to the family.

We cannot ignore the fact that sometimes it is our parenting skills that are lacking, not our measure of love that places our children in danger. We can become too trusting. And, if the child is abused by a family member, we are ashamed or scared to report them.

Sometimes, when it comes to parenting, we need only to look around and ask ourselves, why are children loitering in the shopping complexes without the knowledge of their parents? Are we aware of the whereabouts of our children at a particular point in time? Why do we easily substitute material goods in place of our ready affection and attention? How safe is our child who is left at home with a trusted friend or family-member because some are shocked after many years to discover that the child was abused and warned to keep silent by the perpetrator?

If we want our children to grow up as fully functional adults in a modern world, our definitive role as parents is all important, and that of our teachers is highly significant.

In the light of recent crimes against children in Malaysia, we must be careful not to overreact and restrict or mollycoddle our children under the guise of protecting them. If that were the case, we might as well wrap them up in cotton wool.

But Malaysia is compounded by an absence of proper institutional mechanisms for monitoring and managing child abuse cases. Our Welfare Department reports represent the most severe cases and these cover only 10 per cent of actual incidents. This area needs to be addressed urgently.

Already non-governmental organisations specialising in child abuse are kept clueless about the implementation strategy of the National Child Protection Policy. The policy, initiated last year, was supposed to ensure the protection of children from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Apparently, a detailed framework of the policy with plans for implementation, from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry is still unavailable. This ministry claims to be also conducting research on child abuse.

This ministry has so far failed to live up to its expectations. Is it lacking in funding or able staff? Is it stretching itself too thin on the ground with limited resources? Whatever it is, the absence of the right calibre of people who can deliver results promptly and effectively, will only result in our children being continually failed.

Educating the public on child protection is a struggle as many people wrongly assume that it is the responsibility of the government and the NGOs. Sadly, people forget that this issue is a personal, family and community based responsibility, and also solution.

Most important is that we, parents, ensure our parenting skills are adequate. This means communicating with our children, showing them what is right and wrong, getting them to use their common sense, having respect for others and for ourselves.

If we successfully guide our children with a firm but fair hand in their formative years, loved and respected children grow up to be loved and loving respectable adults.

That goes without saying. And the opposite scenario will mean that we will be constantly polluted with reports of toddlers and kids being abused or even murdered. That is something we wouldn’t want to hear of at all.

(Comments can reach the writer at [email protected])