updated 10 Mar 2012, 11:28
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Sun, Jan 08, 2012
New Straits Times
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Ignorance root cause of abuse

Stories of child abuse no longer shock veteran child rights advocate and Suhakam commissioner James Nayagam. Yes, they sadden him and make him frustrated with the system but they no longer shock him.

"Don't the recent cases say something about the services that we have? We have sat through a gamut of them... from Teledera to Talian Nur and millions of ringgit have been spent on education and awareness programmes. Countless promises have been made to improve things.

"Yet 30 years down the line, we are still hearing the same stories. You have all these things but when it really matters the most, they are ineffective.

"That can only mean that the information is not being filtered down and service is not being rendered to where it is needed the most," he lamented.

The root problem, he said, was that Malaysians were still ignorant or ill-informed about children's rights, although Malaysia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 17 years ago and enforced the Child Act 2001 seven years later.

"You can have all the helplines and services you want but as long as people do not know about the rights of a child, this problem will remain. People are still not aware that children have rights because adults always think that they have rights over a child."

He was commenting on the two recent cases of child abuse in Penang where three children were locked up for hours in their homes by their fathers.

Two of the children - a 6-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother were chained in the toilet while their father was at work. They were rescued by police and Rela members. In the other case, a 6-year-old girl, who had bruises on her body, was left to starve in her home alone for six hours by her father. Neighbours rescued her after they heard her cries.

(Self-employed Tan Hooi Keong, 43, has since been charged with two counts of ill-treatment, neglect, abandonment and exposure of his two children in a manner likely to cause them physical and emotional injuries. He pleaded not guilty.)

Nayagam said cases of child abuse were largely reported from among the lower-income group, especially the urban poor struggling to manage a household, and the burden was heavier on single parents in the absence of good community support services, such as proper childcare centres.

"But tell me, which low-cost housing scheme here has a proper childcare centre to meet the needs of this community?"

He said this was in stark contrast with Singapore where every public housing scheme under the Housing and Development Board was equipped with state-of-the-art childcare services.

What was equally worrying, and was given scant attention to, he said, was the increasing rate of divorce among Malaysians who could not cope with the stress arising from financial and social problems.

Consequently, there are more and more single parents out there struggling to cope with fending for their children, putting food on the table and facing the stress of work. And they are almost all from the lower-income group.

"Having to look after your children single-handedly is not easy, more so for the urban poor. The kids are demanding, the school is demanding, you are stressed at work and you are financially strapped. It can make anyone go berserk."

Nayagam said while any form of child abuse should not be condoned, sending the parent to jail was not the answer to the problem. "He needs help. A better support system for the urban poor, especially single parents, has to be in place to prevent such incidents from recurring.

"Every time a case like this is highlighted, we hear the same old statements from politicians about providing more services or 'changing the law'.

"We who are on the ground dealing with cases like this are sick and tired of listening to all this rhetoric. We want to see implementation, not hear promises."

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