When teachers abuse children

Dr Amar-Singh HSS


LETTER | I must start by saying that I have the utmost respect for teachers. Teachers have shaped me and enabled me to grow and become who I am. They have offered me the opportunities to discover who I am and supported me at crucial times in my life.

Having said that, there are also teachers who can be harmful to students. Over the years, as a paediatrician, I have experienced a number of occasions where teachers have abused children; physically, sexually and emotionally.

The recent account of a child whose ear was allegedly stapled by a teacher, supposedly because he didn’t finish his homework, is horrific. Such a punishment is cruel and bizarre.

What I always find bewildering, as in this situation, is the Ministry of Education's response when a teacher allegedly abuses a student. The classical response is to transfer the teacher to another school. This denies the reality that this teacher may continue to abuse children in the new school.

What is of concern to me is why the police and Welfare Department do not appear to have taken action. We must recognise the Child Act 2001 is not civil legislation; it is mandatory legislation. It clearly outlines ‘children in need of care and protection’ and mandates that the police and the Welfare Department act.

Section 18 of the Child Act states: “Any Protector (Welfare Officer) or police officer who is satisfied on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care and protection may take the child into temporary custody…”

This investigation is not in the hands of the Ministry of Education, it is the hands of the Welfare and Police Departments. One media report (Borneo Post Online, Oct 2, 2019) quotes the Kota Kinabalu police chief as saying that the police have not taken any action as “the boy’s parents have withdrawn their police report, while both parties are believed to have resolved the incident amicably”.

The police seem to fail to appreciate that the Child Act mandates them to act and the withdrawal or absence of a police report is immaterial, for “a child is in need of care and protection”. The issue is not just this child. Have other children in the same school been abused by this teacher and what is the long term risk this individual poses to children?

Similarly, the Welfare Department requires no notification or request to act. The Child Act mandates it to act to ensure the safety of this child and other children in that school. Not to mention the safety of children in the new school where this teacher has been transferred. This teacher is now a risk to all children under the his/her care.

Note that the Child Act does not allow this matter to be settled “amicably” by a withdrawal of reports. Section 31 states that “Any person who, being a person having the care of a child - abuses, …. the child in a manner likely to cause him physical or emotional injury …. commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or to both.”

I would appeal that teachers who can do such a cruel act to a child under their care should not be allowed to be in charge of children again. In addition, some action must be taken against this teacher. I have seen a variety of harsh punishments of children in school but stapling the ear of a child suggests a level of unkindness that is alarming.

Finally, what has happened to this 10-year-old boy? He must be severely emotionally traumatised. I hope he is receiving appropriate support and care. His classmates who witnessed this incident would also have been deeply traumatised and shocked.

Will this child and his classmates continue to trust teachers and the system if we take no action?

What message are we sending to children?

DR AMAR-SINGH HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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