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If death sentence cannot deter child abusers, what can?

Kasthuri Patto  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | What happened to the promise of a new law prevent child abuse announced by Minister for Women, Family and Community Development in January 2015?

The nation grieves again, after the deaths of babies and infants just 56 days into the new year. This time, it is the 46-day-old baby girl who died, allegedly at the hands of her step father, as a result of abuse, broken bones, being bitten, losing consciousness and finally succumbing to her injuries.

This is the third known case this year of a baby or child who died after being mercilessly and savagely abused at the hands of their providers and protectors.

The father is now charged for murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code, after being previously investigated under Section 31(1)(a) of the Child Act 2001, which reads “abuses, neglects, abandons or exposes the child in a manner likely to cause him physical or emotional injury or causes or permits him to be so abused, neglected, abandoned or exposed.”

Anyone who commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding RM20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both. This provision covers offences in relation to the health and welfare of children.

This is the second case this year of a parent being charged with murder after abusing their child to the point of death.

Did the murder charge on the army sergeant in Port Dickson who is alleged to have battered his nine-year-old daughter to death this month serve as a deterrent for the suspect who did the same to baby Nurul Ain Umairah? It doesn't appear so.

While the punishment for murder carries the mandatory death sentence, will the heaviest of punishment prevent other babies and children to fall victim to abusive parents or caretakers? Ask any person out there and the answer will be gloomy and pessimistic, resounding “no.”

The despicable vile act of torture and torment on baby Nurul Ain Umairah is not the first case and will not be the last until serious measures are taken to prevent incidences like this from happening again, or at least to reduce the significantly the numbers.

On this note, I speak for all Malaysians in reminding the government that in January 2015 Minister for Women, Family and Community Development Rohani Abdul Karim pledged that a new comprehensive law be introduced to integrate all stakeholders.

Among the objectives of this is to prevent abuses from happening in the first place. She mentioned that 70 percent of the Child Act 2001 needed amending, so the Ministry might as well draw up a new act altogether.

While the intention to come up with a new act with heavier penalties may serve as a deterrent to future abusers, the crux of the matter is that the act of abuse must be prevented at all costs – by the government, ministries, the enforcement authorities and society at large.

The government must start addressing the matter from the bottom-up. This should be done by creating awareness on the ground to parents and their families, society, religious leaders, schools, before working up towards enforcement agencies, who can offer protection in exchange for tipoffs.

With this, communities can be empowered with knowledge and gain courage to step forward without fear to report suspected abuses, which will drastically reduce and prevent abuses from happening.

Heavier punishments may not necessarily nip the issue in the bud. If a death sentence cannot prevent child abuse, what else can?

The key lies in preventing child abuses from happening in the first place, and I stand with Malaysians to challenge the government to take seriously this cancerous issue that keeps reoccurring, as if there are no laws to punish abusers.

I urge the government to hold a roundtable discussions with MPs from both sides of the aisle in the coming Parliament sitting together with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, members of civil society, religious leaders, enforcement agencies and academicians to formulate policies on preventing child abuses from happening, once and for all.

KASTHURI PATTO is MP for Batu Kawan and publicity secretary for Wanita DAP.

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

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