More needed to protect kids from abuse, says activist

PETALING JAYA: An activist has criticised the current system for protecting children from abuse, saying the many reoccurring cases are proof that it is ineffective.

James Nagayam, president of the Suriana Welfare Society, said he had been dealing with cases of abuse since the 1980s.

“After all these years, they still occur which means that whatever system we have is ineffective.

“The question is, why do they reoccur?”

Speaking to FMT, he said one possible reason is a lack of awareness and deterrents to prevent parents from abandoning their children.

He referred to cases in which parents abandon their children or leave them in the hands of childminders, saying some babies were reported to have died as a result of abuse by these people.

In one such case last year, an 11-month-old baby died after sexual and physical abuse by the babysitter’s husband. The man was sentenced to 20 years in jail and 12 strokes of the rotan.

Just last week, police detained a couple and their daughter for allegedly abusing two children, aged seven and eight, who had been abandoned by their divorced parents for the past seven years.

The children were believed to be malnourished, with signs of abuse on almost every part of their bodies.

Nagayam suggested that abandonment by parents be made a criminal offence, saying no action had been taken against the parents of the two children.

However, he acknowledged complications to this such as possible agreements between the parents and those entrusted with the children.

“We don’t know what the agreement was or whether they were paying these people,” he said.

He also questioned the likelihood of parents being unaware that their child has been abused, saying any parent would notice physical marks such as bruises. Neighbours, too, would notice the noise, he said.

Nagayam said it is important to raise awareness about the issue, suggesting efforts such as long-term campaigns and roadshows.

“If people are more aware, they will be cautious about what they do. Most of the time, we have campaigns which last only a few weeks. We must have a one-year campaign as a reminder to parents not to abandon their children.”

He also urged parents to seek help instead of abandoning their children, and to report cases of abuse to the authorities.

Suriana’s toll-free line, set up to receive complaints of child neglect and abuse, gets an average of 25 calls a month.

Meanwhile, Unicef said everyone has a role to play in keeping children safe.

“Members of the public and teachers need to learn to read the signs and make reports when they suspect a case of abuse,” Unicef’s representative in Malaysia, Marianne Clark-Hattingh, told FMT.

She added that abuse and neglect can have serious consequences on children as well as the larger society.

“Early life experiences build into small bodies and can take a toll, contributing to health problems over a lifetime,” she said.

Reports of abuse can be made by calling Talian Kasih 15999.