PETALING JAYA: Malaysia needs a system that allows for real change, not just ideas and proposals if it hopes to effectively combat sexual abuse of children, a child rights activist says.
In a statement today, chairman of Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia James Nayagam said a lack of commitment, implementation and follow-up under the present system were the main reasons why sexual abuse of children continued to occur.
Nayagam, who has been an activist in the field for over 35 years, criticised the lengthy legal process of reporting child sexual abuse, and said that it currently took more than five years for most cases to be reported.
According to a survey conducted by the NGO, he added, even after a case was reported, the victim continued to faced substantial trauma due to prolonged court proceedings and postponements that sometimes took years before the court reached a decision.
“By that time, the child has forgotten the details of the rape. Yet during this period, it’s the child who loses her freedom in that she is kept in a protection centre and the offender is still on the loose.
“Despite having education programmes in schools and other forms of services, yet in terms of effectiveness, nothing much has changed.”
He said Malaysia’s system was outdated and change often took too long, from the drafting of new laws, to discussions and implementation.
Citing the Child Act, he pointed out that it took almost 10 years for amendments to be brought to Parliament. And after the amendments were passed, he said, debate continued over the formation of a sexual offenders registry.
“Yet even with the registry, only a few offenders are registered as many cases, especially offences relating to fondling, pornography and other forms of sexual abuse, are never brought to court due to weak investigation into the cases and thus the prosecution is unable to proceed with the cases to be heard in court,” he said.
Nayagam pointed to the Richard Huckle case as an example of the weakness in the Malaysia’s legal system. He said Huckle could have been charged in the country but a conviction was uncertain as there were no laws to effectively punish a paedophile on charges of child pornography.
Huckle, a serial rapist, was arrested last year and given 22 life sentences in the UK for sexually abusing Malaysian children while on a teaching stint in the country.
“Experts tell me that an estimated 750,000 cases of child abuse occur each year in Malaysia, and a ratio that out of every 10 children one is a victim of abuse,” Nayagam said.
“I cannot imagine the statistics for sexual abuse which takes place behind walls and in most cases, 80% of the abusers are known to the child.”