Sunday, September 19

Has our society turned a blind eye on child abuse?

0

Photo of Lundu Town Square.

Edgar Ong

ON Sunday, Sept 5, 2021, the quiet little tucked-away seaside village town of Lundu, some 72 miles from Kuching, made a splash in an international headline on the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, of such a sordid nature that it might forever hang its head in shame – ‘How Australian police tracked one of world’s most wanted paedophiles to Borneo’.

A couple of days before that, I had received a phone call from a fixer friend in Kuala Lumpur asking for my assistance in locating certain people of interest in Lundu. It was only much later that I had learned of the nature of the story, such was why it was so ‘top secret’ in case that these certain parties were forewarned.

The ‘special exclusive’ story written by investigative journalist Chris Barrett had featured three photographs: two of the township – shots of a beach and a town; and a photo credited to Dayak Daily, captioned ‘Alladin Lanim is escorted by Malaysian police during a court appearance in Kuching in August.’

Alladin Lanim, a horror story of a predator, a child abuser who had, for at least 14 years, been abusing children between the ages of two and 16. He had been posting about recording his exploits on the ‘Dark Web’ and was boasting on message forums about his children abusing crimes.

After a very long investigation involving international agencies in Australia, the United States and Kuala Lumpur, the experts at the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation made a breakthrough when they had eventually identified him in August 2020 after years of exhaustive research on the ‘Dark Web’.

However, it was only in July 2021 that the investigators at the Australian Transactions Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) managed to track Lanim to a Sarawak government’s state Covid-19 quarantine facility where he was serving a mandatory 14-day isolation after arriving back in Sarawak after a trip to Peninsular Malaysia.

Lanim was arrested on July 5, 2021, as he came out of quarantine. (We are uncertain if Lundu is actually his town of birth.)

Six weeks later in a Kuching Court, in August, Lanim pleaded guilty to 18 counts of child abuse and was sentenced to a total of 48 years in prison and 15 strokes of the rattan. Investigators had already identified at least 34 victims whom he had abused, and they believe that there could have been more.

Lanim, 40, had been sharing child abuse material on the ‘Dark Web’ since 2007, and at least 1,000 images and videos were linked to him directly. In 2019, he was listed as one of the top 10 offenders in the world in the exploitation of children on the internet.

Lundu, according to Sarawak’s Census 2020, had a population of 39,200, of which exactly 70 per cent were Malays and other indigenous communities (Bidayuh, etc), nine per cent were Chinese, and 21 per cent others.

It is famous for its popular beaches at Sematan (12 miles to the west), as well as Pandan and Pugu (about a 15-minute drive on newly-paved roads).

It also is home to Gunung Gading National Park, a few minutes’ drive from town; famous for the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia; as well as its many hiking trails and waterfalls.

As the town is a leisurely two-hour drive from Kuching, it is popular as a weekend drive-through picnic spot as it attracts seafood lovers who go for its fresh fish, prawns, flower crabs and local dishes like the ‘midin/paku’ and other jungle delicacies.

Casual dining eateries are aplenty and prices tend to be reasonable. A family can take a drive to the beach, have a swim, an afternoon nap and either have lunch or an early dinner, before driving back home again. Most weekends, the roadways are busy with picnickers and day-trippers from Kuching.

From a personal point of view and especially for such a small community living in close proximity of each other, I ask myself this question: “How is it possible that such a predator like Aladdin Lanim can operate without a single other person knowing about it?’

It is not just the audacity, the blatantness and the outrage that such a person can continue to abuse these minors, these children (imagine the youngest, only at two years old!) for all of 14 long years at a stretch, without a single third person knowing about it, and reporting it or having him sent for counselling — that is the single most utterly shocking revelation!

Or, had someone known about it? Had he or she simply ignored, turned a blind eye or simply brushed it off.

Is this the kind of society that we have nurtured, cultivated or become?

Was he such a man of influence? Did he know some ‘dirty little secrets’ that he would reveal or expose to all, if he himself were to be exposed?

Or was he such a sweet talker that he had talked himself out of all these crimes before he was eventually caught red-handed?

Who knows what’s the ‘dirty little secret’ that this little sleepy seaside town has been hiding, if in fact it had, as a community, known about it and had chosen to keep quiet, stay silent, and not be bothered – until the sensational news had hit the international media last Sunday!

I find it totally incomprehensible too that our very own local authorities, or any of the Lundu District enforcement and family-caring agencies, had not even heard a single rumour, any whiff of a scandal, some ‘dirty whispers’ among their staff or family members, about Aladdin, as it had involved at least 34 children over 14 years!

How can that be possible? More so in such a small town, no bigger than the size of, say, Asajaya or Lawas. (These two other towns that I mention here have similar population figures.)

I do believe it is the general attitude that our community has over the issue of child abuse. Our society at large has not taken this issue nor seen it as a very serious matter – an issue of life or death – or for that matter, think in their own minds that it is such a heinous crime like say, murder.

Our society likes to keep to themselves and say they’d rather mind their own business and wouldn’t be bothered about other people’s affairs. To them, it’s none of their business if the neighbours fight all the time, discipline their children, or if mature men are seen courting minors! They prefer to stay out of trouble and away from controversies and meddlesome matters.

That’s our society for you.

The aftermath of the abused minors, children and victims would be felt for a very long time and much loving tender care as well as extensive rehabilitation, intensive counselling, special psychiatric efforts and other health matters would surely be required for many years ahead.

In time, there might come some form of healing, but the victims have been forever scarred and their innocent childhood is lost for good.

I, for one, am a very strong advocate of throwing the book at all predators of all child abusers wherever they are found. Show no mercy and spare no expense to bring each and every single one of them to face the full force of the law.

Your silence is as good as your acquiescence on the issue.