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Child protection: We need action, not words

 | May 18, 2017

A veteran social worker says ruling politicians are not motivated to solve the problem of child abuse.

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Barely a month has gone by since the tragic death of 11-year-old Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, and we’re hearing about another severe beating of a pupil in a tahfiz school.

According to a recent news report, a student at a tahfiz school in Batang Kali was beaten with a rubber hose on the soles of his feet. His grandfather, Azizul Rahman Mohd Zaman, has since taken him out of the school.

Azizul has not lodged a police report to avoid being seen as trying to influence other parents. He alleged that the treatment his grandson received was a common form of punishment at the school.

The Star interviewed the headmaster of the school, who confirmed that the beating took place last month. He claimed that he had reprimanded the teacher who administered the beating and no such incident had since been repeated.

The headmaster said he allowed only a small cane for disciplining students. He speculated that the teacher who beat Azizul’s grandson might have “accidentally” used a rubber hose.

Readers would find it outrageous that a teacher could have “accidentally” used a rubber hose to beat someone on the soles, which is a form of punishment that has been banned by the Geneva Convention.

The furore over Thaqif’s death and the case of Azizul’s grandson has attracted the attention of J Lim, a mental health nurse and criminologist who has more than twenty years of experience in the care of children and young adults with special needs in London.

Lim, a Malaysian and a former social worker, alleges that institutions in Malaysia pay only lip service to child protection. He says most of them have neither the interest nor the competence to implement simple procedures such as vetting prospective employees and subjecting them to criminal background checks prior to their appointment.

He claims that a culture of subservience and fear runs through many public sector institutions and, to a large extent, through non-governmental organisations that rely on government funding.

He also claims that public servants are aware of the worthlessness of their expertise in the eyes of ruling politicians unless they apply their skills to tasks that meet the approval of the establishment.

He said: “Unless there is a vote-catching element, measures for the public good and any proposed legislation can be shelved for years. One example is the Social Workers Act, which has been in the Attorney-General’s Chambers for more than 10 years.”

He also notes the lack of progress in the development of a nationwide register of people unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults.

He said: “A cynical approach to this suggests that these incidents do not affect the politicians. So they are not motivated to solve the problem. It is more tempting to blame the individual unruly child or bad parenting. Institutions are absolved of any blame.”

A former public servant who is now a social activist said, “Why isn’t the Malaysian government tapping into people like Lim and using their skills and expert knowledge to formulate plans for the protection of children and young adults? This is such a waste of talent. Do we need to wait for another death and then do more hand wringing?”

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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