Nobody speaks for child sexual abuse victims

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

“With such high reports of child sexual abuse cases and only a disgraceful low of 6.4 percent of convictions from 2012 till July this year, one cannot blame the public for their mistrust in the authorities.”

- Kasthuri Patto, Batu Kawan MP (DAP), 2016

A young activist, himself a survivor of childhood rape, reminded me recently that the “most disenfranchised” members of society are children. Nobody speaks for them, he said, and their pain and suffering are put on the backburner because of “more important issues”.

Looking back at all the comment pieces I have written, I cannot find even a single piece where I wrote about this issue, not even when a UK citizen was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes committed against children in Malaysia.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak when hawking the proposed Child Sexual Offences Bill 2017 said, “The bill should not be opposed by any political party.” Who would oppose such a bill? If the prime minister was sincerely interested in making this a nonpartisan issue, he would have held a joint press conference with every political party and present a unified front for a strategy dealing with one of the most serious issues facing this country.

I have previously singled out DAP parliamentarian Teo Nie Ching for highlighting controversial (in the Malaysian context) issues in other pieces. I was glad to see her raise the issue of child marriages again and the lack of transparency when it comes to the consultation process from Putrajaya when it comes to tabling this bill. Again, this points to the politicisation of this issue from Putrajaya with opposition MPs and perhaps even MPs from BN in the dark about this bill, which just goes to show you how important this issue is in our national discourse.

Last year when a Reuters report detailed how Malaysia allows child abuse to go unpunished, it briefly fuelled an outrage that was immediately doused by the corruption scandals that plague this administration.

A couple of interesting points were made in the article that demonstrates how insidious the problem is. Defending the rather dubious practice of not publishing child sexual abuse data because it is protected under the Official Secrets Act, Ong Chin Lan, the head of Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division of the Royal Malaysian Police, said, “We don't want people to misinterpret it.”

I get how data could be misinterpreted but why would anyone want to misinterpret child sexual abuse data? On the other hand, is this a political issue? Another move to save face because of governmental policy, lack of enforcement, generally ill-defined laws and a lack of empathy with child victims?

What exactly is this fear of misinterpretation? That political parties, civil rights groups and child advocacy groups will use the information to embarrass the government of the day? Only a moron would attempt to make political capital of this issue because ultimately, we are all to blame. The government for its indifference and inadequate laws, the opposition for not making this a major issue, and the general public for its apathy.

Addressing the same point, DAP’s Kashturi Patto wrote, “While I know her (Ong Chin Lan’s) heart is in the right place, by not revealing data on this type of crimes, the issue remains largely unaddressed and will inadvertently contribute to the increase in number of potential paedophiles and abusers. By also concealing information like this, it makes victims and victims' families hesitate to make reports, thinking that the matter is taboo.”

While I do not know if anyone heart is the right place when it comes to this issue, there is an abundance of evidence that so far, the laws in Malaysia with regards to these specific crimes are horrendous.

From the Reuters article - “Police blame weak laws and rules governing court evidence that give little weight to children's testimony as the reason most cases never result in charges.

“Malaysia does not have a law specifically prohibiting child pornography and defines rape narrowly as penile penetration. ‘Grooming’ - touching and befriending children as a prelude to sexual abuse - draws no legal penalties.”

While the newly-proposed bill attempts to deal with most of these issues, there are other issues linked with these particular crimes that some people would like to sweep under the carpet. Child marriages, for instance, are common in Malaysia. What is worse is that marriage as a form of defence in child rape cases seems like an acceptable situation here in Malaysia...

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