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We don’t protect our children enough

 | May 3, 2017

Thaqif was not the first to die from abuse at school. Will he be the last?

COMMENT

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It’s appalling how heedless our society is when it comes to the protection of children.

Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi was not the first to have died as a result of abuse at school. Like all the other times similar cases made the headlines, we react to his death with shock and anger, asking ourselves, “How could this have happened?” And like all the other times, some of us vow never to let such a thing happen again.

But there are some who get angry with those who blame the authorities for failures in the system. If the abuse happens in a religious school, those of us seeking better child protection are accused of insulting Islam. We are accused of making a fuss over “just one incident”.

Just one incident? Last week, the same week that Thaqif died, six-year-old Muhammad Iqram Danish Abdullah was found unconscious in the van that transported him to his religious kindergarten. He had fallen asleep and did not alight at the destination like the other children did. It was three hours later that the driver found he was still inside the van and in a state of unconsciousness.

What happened to procedures? Doesn’t the driver have a check list? Doesn’t the kindergarten have an attendance roll? Procedures are seriously lacking in our schools and ancillary services.

Early this year, Hanif Mohamad Ali, a former teacher and warden of the hostel of a religious school in Arau, was sentenced to death for the murder of seven-year-old Saiful Syazani Saiful Sopfidee in 2011.

Hanif had accused Saiful of stealing and subjected him to a two-hour beating. Doctors told his adopted mother that there had been rope burns on his hand, consistent with being bound. It emerged that his hands had been tied to an iron bar and he had been hit on the head and slapped.

Hanif had also strangled the boy for about four minutes, starving his brain of oxygen.

In 2011, the then deputy education minister, Mohd Puad Zakarshi, told the press that no action could be taken against the teacher because the incident happened in a private school.

That case should have been a wake-up call for the ministry of education to tighten up procedures and issue guidelines to all private and government religious schools.

After Thaqif’s death, the minister of education said procedures would be tightened, but in the six years since Saiful’s death, what did the ministry do? It has failed our children.

Malaysians must show more concern at the rise in cases of child abuse, and the authorities must do much more to protect children.

Public awareness needs to be increased, and people should be empowered and encouraged to become personally involved and support families and parents.

Contrary to popular opinion, children suffer the most abuse from people they know, like parents, relatives, babysitters, teachers and wardens. Not strangers.

Will people act only when their own children are involved?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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