Taking it up a notch to care for our children

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MP SPEAKS | While some countries shift its gears towards a gender-balanced cabinet, Malaysia stays ungrudgingly in the lurch - as if inequality indicates progress, and everyone needs reminding on gender equality being the exception to the prevailing rule and practice.

Such is the political terrain which most women politicians face, and one which I and three fellow Malaysian women politicians grappled with, at a forum organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association two weeks back.

Gender in politics is imperative, but the larger issue concerns our future - will our children grow up subjugated by gender inequality?

Is having a child, often a young girl, marry her rapist a barometer of societal progress?

Last year unearthed many unfortunate incidents that befell young innocents of our country.

As such, the legislation of the Child Sexual Offences Act 2017 was a welcome policy shift, long awaited and well-embraced by Malaysian stakeholders across the board.

As a legislator and a mother of two, I too lend my full support to the passage and enforcement of the new Act.

The Act widens the net on child sexual predators by penalising those in a relationship of trust and sexual grooming; and empowers children by acknowledging the credence of their testimonies.

However, the Child Sexual Offences Act 2017 is not the be-all and end-all of child protection. Much more needs doing across the enforcement, welfare and legislative arms to ensure our children's safety.

In Malaysia, the importance of the child sex offender registry is severely downplayed, despite its potential in keeping harm at bay.

Its installation by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry finally came late last year - after unyielding pressure from the opposition and many NGOs, after it was unearthed that Richard Huckle had subjugated our children to his malice.

But, despite the prevalence of paedophilia, access to information of convicted sex offenders remains heavily curbed by the government. I appreciate Minister Rohani Abdul Karim’s explanation that employers, such as those who operate daycare centres, can write in to the social welfare department director-general, to determine if a prospective employee is listed in the registry.

Nevertheless, I also contend that being solely dependent on the proactiveness of employers and the discretion of a secretive government to assess these requests to thwart repeat sex offenders leaves a gaping hole in child protection.

Punishment should be coupled with preventive practices

Punishment is a reaction to bad behaviour, but it should also be coupled with preventive practices to prevent any child from being hurt in the first place. Malaysia has yet to put in place systematic employment screening procedures that can verify the credentials and integrity of employees before authorising assets to them, or in this case, entrusting our children with them.

In contrast, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) in the United Kingdom is a government service that is put in place to perform criminal records checks for any organisation in the public, private and voluntary sectors to make safer recruitment decisions.

Specifically, employers are required to perform additional checks against the DBS barred lists to ensure that the candidates of interest are not prohibited from working or volunteering in close proximity with children or vulnerable adults by the government.

From the perspective of employers, 89 percent reported last year that performing DBS checks and disclosures improves public safety with better-guided employment decisions. In other words, there are many practices, mechanisms and systems to protect children that Malaysia does not yet have. As a new entrant in the enforcement of specific child sexual protection laws, Malaysia should look to our foreign counterparts for areas of improvement.

Undoubtedly, the most contentious aspect of the Child Sexual Offences Act 2017 is its non-existent provisions on child marriage, especially to their rapists. In Malaysia, we lament having reckless elected representatives who are still insensitive towards the needs of the children. Tasek Gelugor MP Shabudin Yahaya drew much ire when he expressed that it is all right for a rapist to marry his victim.

The irony is bitter and unmistakable. While Malaysia’s discourse remains backwards, even at Parliament, Germany’s cabinet agreed on a proposal to outlaw child marriages, just a day after Shabudin’s outrageous comments. Citing their respect of children, small and vulnerable as they may be, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said, "We cannot tolerate any marriages that might harm the natural development of minors.”

It is not just secular societies that condemn crimes against children. Islam views rape as a horrible and completely forbidden crime which causes physical and emotional harm, and its perpetrator must be severely punished.

According to 11th-century Lisbon scholar, Ibn Abd Al-Barr, the crime of rape, especially when forcible assault occurs, is akin to the crime of insurgency and terrorism.

Surely, the crime of rape must be a more grievous one if it involves children.

Contrary to Shabudin Yahaya’s brash and insensitive locution that child marriage is a “remedy for social problems”, child marriage is but a striking symptom of social problems in Malaysia.

One practical remedy for sexual offences against children is not to proliferate the practice of child marriage, but to make compulsory sex education and awareness of such offences at schools.

The Child Sexual Offences Act 2017 is an admirable - albeit much delayed - initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

But the government must not rest on its laurels in implementing a long-overdue measure.

Instead, it should realise that there is much to improve to prevent horrifying crimes like Richard Huckle’s from ever being repeated not just in Malaysia, but anywhere else.


NURUL IZZAH ANWAR is Lembah Pantai MP.

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



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