Activist: Sexual abuse common in boarding schools, shelters

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PETALING JAYA: A child rights activist has cautioned that child sexual abuse is a common problem in boarding schools and children’s shelters in Malaysia.

James Nayagam, the chairman of Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia, said most abuse cases in the country are not known and left untreated because the victims are afraid to share and seek help.

“They don’t know where to go for help and most victims have no visible marks for us to identify that they are being abused sexually,” he told FMT.

He said only a few cases become known to the authorities when the victims open up or when internet predators are tracked down by enforcement officials.

He stressed that it is very rare for incidents to be brought to the attention of the public, such as when Welfare and Social Organisation (Perbak) president Muhammad Khairul Hafiz reportedly stepped up this week to say he had been abused as a child.

Nayagam also cited the conviction of British paedophile Richard Huckle last year as a rare example of the misdeed being exposed.

“My survey shows that most hostel wardens admit that the issue of child sexual abuse in student hostels is a common matter and it is safe to say that it has been happening for the past 30 years,” he added.

Four out of five abused children turn out to be abusers when they grow up after suffering permanent psychological damage, he added.

Nayagam also said that most victims have difficulties in a sexual relationship and tend to demonstrate behavioural problems when they grow up.

“They lose their self-worth, and in three out of five cases, they suffer from broken relationships,” he said.

In an effort to deal with child abuse, Nayagam said the Suriana Welfare Society developed its Child Protection Policy programme.

“The policy is important to deal with such sensitive cases. There should be a reporting mechanism where these victims can use to get help,” he said.

Meanwhile, Madeleine Yong, founder of the Protect and Save the Children society, pointed out that Malaysia lacked enforcement to monitor shelter homes and the quality of care in these homes and institutions.

“There is abuse in institutional care. When abuse happens, we need specially trained enforcement (personnel) to deal with children who are traumatised.

“There should be more specialised training for magistrates and deputy public prosecutors to deal with these cases,” she said, adding that more therapy and rehabilitation were also needed.

Yong said society should be able to face the problem and not use culture or religion as an excuse to dismiss it.

She also pointed out that the revelation by Khairul showed that child sexual abuse goes beyond gender.

“It is not restricted to one gender only as boys can also be molested and raped,” Yong said.

Khairul was reported to have shared openly about being molested during his stay in a shelter when he was a boy.

The traumatic event led him to search for justice not just for himself, but also for other victims who were staying in the same shelter.

According to The Star, Khairul had lodged a police report in 2012 claiming that a few personnel at the shelter were allegedly responsible for sodomising and sexually abusing over 150 children there since 2004.

It quoted him as saying that he was also forced to dress as a nurse before being sexually assaulted by a staff member when he was a resident there between 1999 and 2004.

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