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Why is info on child sexual violence hidden under the OSA?

MP SPEAKS While it is commendable that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said is pushing for the Child Sexual Crimes Act which is due to be tabled soon in Parliament, it is horrific that now information or data on child sexual violence and abuse have been classified as confidential information by the police under the Official Secrets Act (1972) (OSA).

Classified data from the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) showed 12,987 cases of child sexual abuses between January 2012 and July of this year. Only 140 had been convicted from 2,189 charges. Apart from this vital information, there have been no other details on what happened to those who were convicted, or even for cases where there were no convictions. It is as though all this information has fallen into a black hole, intentionally.

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.

The Official Secrets Act (1972) defines an “official secret” as “...any document specified in the Schedule and any information and material relating thereto and includes any other official document, information and material as may be classified as ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Confidential’ or ‘Restricted’, as the case may be, by a minister, the menteri besar or chief minister of a state or such public officer.

The Schedule to the Act covers “cabinet documents, records of decisions and deliberations including those of cabinet committees”, as well as similar documents for state executive councils. It also includes “documents concerning national security, defence and international relations”.

In this case even a public officer, ranking as head of department or ‘ketua jabatan’ may decide ad-hoc that a particular information which was made public in the past suddenly be NOT made available to the public domain!

By classifying such vital, critical and integral information on the abuse on children, parents, teachers and the general community will soon create distrust, doubts and fears on the whole system of protection, rule of law, justice and punishment.

Asst Comm Ong Chin Lan, head of the Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division of PDRM, said that the police “don’t want people to misinterpret and that the government doesn't want to unduly alarm the public about possibly high numbers of child abuse cases,”. This statement is highly irresponsible as the public must have these information to protect their children, families and their communities.

While I know her 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.

Censorious attitude

It is this very censorious attitude of “lacing critical information in secrecy” that encourages the silent breeding of child sexual abusers in the country.

PS the Children, Malaysia’s biggest NGO dealing with child abuse, since the beginning of its operations 17 years ago has seen zero convictions on the cases it has handled, according to its founder, Madeleine Yong.

As this is of public importance, information like the number of child sexual and violent abuse MUST be made available to NGOs, elected representatives and to the general public.

On what grounds is information regarding child sexual violence and abuse be classified under the Official Secrets Act (1972) and who were the people who agreed to it?

KASTHURI PATTO is DAP’s Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan.

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