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Child abuse case with a vexing political angle

 | October 3, 2014

Shalwati Norshal's children were subjected to another ordeal when they were milked for publicity upon their return from Sweden.

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sweden300Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t pay much attention to someone who has served her time in prison for a crime she committed in another country. So when a parent who has been accused of beating her children slips quietly into town, why should we bother? Why should her return concern us?

Last Wednesday, Shalwati Norshal arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) from Stockholm. It was a low key reception, with only her husband and a few close relatives welcoming her home.

Contrast her arrival with that of her four children in February. They were accompanied by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Hamzah Zainuddin, and the glare of publicity overshadowed the gravity of the crime committed by their parents.

The children had been used to milk publicity for the government. They were paraded in front of the television cameras. The government probably underestimated the situation and thought it was just a misunderstanding of cultures, blown out of proportion by the children’s imagination. Imagine the consternation in Wisma Putra when the parents were found guilty of child abuse.

When Shalwati and her husband flew quietly into Kota Bharu, Kelantan, to an emotional welcome with her estranged children, whose ages ranged from eight to 15, some reporters were present, but it was nothing compared to the media scrum which accompanied the children when they returned.

Shalwati is a teacher on unpaid leave, and wife of Azizul Raheem Awalludin, the Malaysian Tourism Director formerly based in Sweden. The Swedish court sentenced them to prison, for 14 and 10 months, respectively, but they were released after serving a third of their sentence. The arrest of the couple last December, was kept quiet for a month, but when the news broke, Umno-Baru Youth decided to send a representative to Sweden to assist the family.

The political angle is worrying. If it had been a non-Malay, a non-Muslim, or someone who was not a member of Umno-Baru, would Umno-Baru Youth have been as helpful? What is the role of the embassies if not to assist Malaysians?

The Swedish authorities placed the children in care. They must have been traumatised when they learnt that their innocent revelations had initiated criminal proceedings against their parents.

When the daughter complained about her foster parents, certain sections of the Malaysian public demanded the return of the children, but the reaction of the Malaysian public is questionable.

Were these Malaysians concerned that the children had been abused by their parents and beaten for refusing to pray? Were they concerned about the children in foster care? Or were they more worried that the foster parents had fed the children non-halal food?

Rehearsed statements

The decision to repatriate the children had a profound effect upon their way of life. They had been away for all of their lives. They spoke little Malay and had to adjust to Malaysian schooling. Kelantan must have seemed very odd to them.

When the children returned last February, the decent thing to do would have been to avoid publicity and fly them immediately to Kota Bharu to settle in with their relatives. Instead, the children were subjected to another ordeal when the Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the self-styled First Lady of Malaysia, Rosmah Mansor, milked the children for publicity.

The four children, squeezed onto a sofa beside Najib and Rosmah were then prompted to make obviously rehearsed statements. They looked jet-lagged and exhausted. It is cruel to use children in publicity stunts.

Najib reiterated his offer to help the parents, but there should have been no need to say this. Any Malaysian who gets into difficulties abroad is entitled to government aid. It is the duty of the Malaysian government to assist, and the citizen’s right to be accorded this aid, irrespective of the charges.

During the trial, both parents initially denied hitting their children, but were convicted on the strength of their children’s testimony. One son said his father had pinched him on the arms, and his mother had hit him with a coat hanger and a rotan. Another son claimed that he received over 1,000 beatings per year, for playing loud music, not doing his homework, fighting with his sister and not reading the Quran.

On her arrival a few days ago, Shalwati told a reporter that “she was excited about returning to teaching at Sekolah Seri Puteri, Cyberjaya, soon.”

The news that she will teach may alarm some parents. A criminal record does not necessarily preclude anyone from teaching. But Shalwati was convicted for child abuse. Would children be safe in her care? Why was she not suspended or sacked as a teacher? Neither she nor her husband has shown remorse for beating their children.

Shalwati has been on unpaid leave whilst she accompanied her husband on his tour of duty to South Africa in 2006 and Sweden in 2010. She has not taught for eight years. Will she be au fait with the curriculum, the syllabus and teaching? Will she have to attend a refresher course? Will she be allowed to ease into her previous job scale and salary grade after a long absence? Few people are allowed a sabbatical lasting eight years.

We should be concerned because this is not about the victimisation of a couple by the Swedish Court. It is about child abuse and the lack of remorse shown by the perpetrators. It is about Malaysians closing one eye to an increase in child abuse by some rogues in the teaching profession.


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