Alleged tahfiz sexual abuse - 'NFA' is unacceptable



COMMENT | The Attorney-General Tommy Thomas’s decision to defend the "No Further Action" (NFA) order with regards to the case where a minor was allegedly sexually assaulted by three older students at a tahfiz school in Ipoh is utterly shocking and unacceptable.

The All-Women’s Action Society (Awam) stands firmly with Suhakam’s Child Commissioner Noor Aziah Mohd Awal and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) in holding the AG accountable to his decision given that the magistrate, Mohammad Afifi Mohammad Deen, has already established that an offence had taken place under Section 377E of the Penal Code and Section 14(a) of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.

Awam urges the AG to study the allegations made by the aggrieved mother of the victim with regards to the lack of identified suspects, missing reports on the psychological evaluations and more. Awam believes that if the mother’s claims are found to be valid, the AG must pursue the case to its conclusion and hold the alleged perpetrators accountable.

“It is a crime unto itself when a perpetrator is let go because someone got the paperwork wrong. Think of the message that we are sending to sexual harassers, rapists and predators,” said Nisha Sabanayagam, Programmes and Operations Manager at Awam.

Awam believes the role of the AG goes beyond the mere persecution of cases but to uphold justice and the rights of the citizens under the constitution and the law. This also means that the AG must respect Malaysia’s commitment under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 34 of the CRC clearly outlines the government and its agencies’ obligation to “protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse”.

However, Awam also firmly believes that it is also the responsibility of members of society to keep our country safe for children. Every day, adults miss real opportunities to prevent child sexual abuse because of misinformation and confusing stereotypes about sexual abuse.

In 2018, there were four reported cases of Child Sexual Assault (CSA) perpetrated by a tahfiz school teacher, principal, worker and ustaz. This goes to show that sexual assault can happen anywhere, including places of worship and education. Schools, especially religious schools, can potentially enable sexual exploitation of children because of the unique intersections of unequal power dynamics between student and teacher. 

The teachers also have the privilege of being seen as models of society. This privilege, when exploited, coupled with the vulnerability of victims easily enables predators to perform acts of violations against the students and get away with it.

There has been an alarming increasing trend in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases involving minors. In 2016, the statistics involving victims below 18 years of age stood at 1,358 for rape, 673 for outrage of modesty, 40 for sexual harassment and 193 cases on incest.

In the following year, the statistics were 1,257 for rape, 453 for outrage of modesty, 21 on sexual harassment and 253 cases on incest.

Just in the month of September 2019 alone, through our free legal information and counselling services, Awam has received four cases of SGBV against minors (below 18 years old) of which two cases involved children below the age of 12.

“When are we going to seriously acknowledge the widespread sexual abuse of children that is thriving in this country?” said Nisha.

While the AG has the legal responsibility to see that all avenues are explored, properly and correctly, to protect the rights of the child, the government plays a larger role in addressing and preventing CSA. 

The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women, Social Welfare and Community Development must look into the incorporation of Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) in the school syllabus for children as young as seven years old. Children need to be aware that adults cannot violate them. Children also need to know where to turn to for help should such a case of violation occurs.

When sexual abuse occurs in childhood it can hinder normal social growth. Childhood sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems. It is not just one person who is affected, but the people around that child as well.

“This case is not a one-off case. The abuse of children is a societal problem that needs to be seriously addressed. Why are they so many cases of abuse? Why do people feel that it is ok to take advantage of a child? Are our laws not effective enough? Are Malaysians unaware that children have rights too and cannot be taken advantage of?” said Nisha.

Related reports:

Tahfiz sexual abuse: Victim's mum entitled to pursue legal action, says Suhakam 

AG responds to claim he ordered dismissal of tahfiz sexual abuse case  

The above is issued by the All Women’s Action Society (Awam).

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