Malaysians are shocked by the prolific abuse of children in Malaysia by Richard Huckle and ask why he was not detected sooner. In the Sarawak Women for Women Society’s (SWWS) view, part of the answer is that despite child sexual abuse regularly hitting the headlines, it is given low priority and consequently awareness is lacking.
“What is needed is for every school in the State to run classes for children on what touches are inappropriate and where to go for help” said Margaret Bedus, SWWS’s president. “This has been raised time and time again but people shy away from it. The result is children do not know what to do and so the sexual abuse continues”.
To protect children attitudes need to change. Parents, teachers and youth workers need to talk to children about these issues; be alert to changes in children’s behaviour and take seriously any comments from children about inappropriate behaviour. Priority has to be to help the child and not to protect the accused or the image of the agency.
People running programmes for children and youth need to realise abusers may be amongst those applying to work or volunteer. They therefore need to have standard child protection policies in place and not assume they can spot an abuser from his appearance or attitude. Huckle presented himself as a helpful person wanting to assist poor children in their Sunday school - he groomed both the adults and children to trust him.
SWWS in its recently launched manifesto Women Calling for Change, addressed the issue of child sexual abuse and made the following recommendations:-
- Run programmes on Child Safety and Reproductive Health in schools and also in the community so school drop-outs are reached.
- Increase awareness of abuse of children through the internet and have easy online reporting mechanisms for children.
- Move from the current ‘Touch and Go’ situation to more systematic, long-term support for survivors of abuse.
- Increase the capacity and skill of key agencies - this requires more resources and more training.
- Child protection officers employed by the Welfare Department to be professionally qualified social workers as envisioned in the Child Act currently being amended and the proposed Social Work Act.
- Extend the work of the inter-agency teams dealing with abuse (SCAN) so they cover more of the State and also provide an effective review system.
- Amend the definition of rape in the Penal Code so ‘finger rape’ is included.
SWWS strongly believes these measures will strengthen Sarawak’s ability to respond to the serious problem of child sexual abuse - as long as they are given priority and speedily implemented.
“We need to move quickly.” said Margaret. “ It is over a year ago since SWWS raised the issue of the finger rape but there is still no date for the necessary amendments. That’s why we are saying the key issue is for everyone to give this issue priority - we know what needs to be done. If we don’t do it then we are making it easier for the abusers.”