by Mariam Mokhtar
Behind the beauty and innocence of some children in Perak, lies a deep secret involving violence at home and in school. Many children are victims of a slew of sexual crimes – rape, sodomy, exposure to pornographic material, fondling, forcible kissing and sexual advances, among others.
Amy’s mother noticed that Amy had difficulty walking and brought her to the clinic. The doctors noticed bleeding, and after an internal exam, found she had been sexually abused. The alleged rapist was a family friend who was giving her religious lessons.
Uma became withdrawn after a grand-uncle came to stay. Upon questioning, it was discovered that the relative had asked Tina to touch him in inappropriate places.
Nur was made to watch pornographic mo-vies with her step-father after school. He attempted to rape her but was caught when his wife returned early from work.
The names have been changed to protect their identities. All live in Ipoh and were abused when they were 7 years old.
Most children are abused by those closest to them. The three girls lodged police reports, but many wonder if they made the right decision.
Interminable Wait for Trial
The girls waited around five years for the trial. The delay was because the prosecutor or judge was on leave, the lawyer was unavailable, the witness refused to attend trial, or there were several cases for that particular day.
If the government is serious about combating child sexual abuse/crime, they should give such cases priority. A growing child is traumatised recalling past unpleasant experiences.
As children get older, they become more sensitive. They are searching for their own identities and will be aware that they are victims of sexual crime.
Repeated cross-examinations undermine their confidence, self-respect and pride. They are more embarrassed than when they were younger. Older children may be uncooperative and refuse to be cross-examined.
One doctor said, “A prolonged trial would definitely affect the child and her parents. Going to court is stressful. There is bound to be long-term damage to the child’s pride and self-esteem.”
One offender was found guilty and sentenced to only two months jail. He immediately appealed and was freed on bail pending appeal. After two years, he was cleared of all charges. He escaped scot-free.
Apparently, the DPP had ‘lost’ the evidence, and had not cross-examined the main witness, the doctor who treated the victim.
“The girl is devastated. The law can no longer protect the rights of the victims,” one family member said. “Her mother does not want to subject her daughter to an appeal in which she might suffer more trauma. Justice is non-existent in Perak.”
In child sexual abuse, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) is dependent on the police to protect the evidence or do a thorough investigation.
Victims depend on the police and the DPP to secure a conviction whereas the offenders can hire the best lawyers.
One girl was so traumatised by the long wait (a few years) that when the case came to trial, she was tearful and refused to proceed. She only agreed after much psychiatric counselling. However, the alleged rapist pleaded guilty just before the trial started.
The guilty plea meant the judge was not presented with the full story and evidence. The offender received a light sentence of a few months jail and a minimal fine.
Another child psychologist said, “Sometimes it looks like the judge has more sympathy with the sex offender than the child victim.”
How Serious In Tackling Abuse?
How serious are we are about tackling cases of sexual abuse in children?
In Malaysia, child sexual abuse is punishable under the Child Act (2001) and the Penal Code (revised 1997).
Offenders may be liable to a maximum fine of RM50,000 or up to 20 years imprisonment, or both, depending on the offence. Punishment may include whipping.
Only 10% of such crimes are reported. The conviction rate of sexual crime is very low, perhaps 5%.
System Raping Victims
Many victims make seve-ral court appearances. The cross-examination makes them relive the rape. When their perpetrators receive light punishments, they feel that the system is raping them.
The family of one of the victims is disillusioned with Malaysian justice and is reluctant to appeal: “Why bother? Nothing will ever change.”
Parents lack confidence in the Attorney-General. One parent said, “It might take years before we get any reply, that is, if the AG wants to reply.”
Studies have shown that abused children grow into adults with suicidal tendencies and severe behavioural problems. They tend to be promiscuous and enter dysfunctional relationships.
Our judiciary and police must make a concerted effort to dispense justice because their failure to perform means our children will continue to be victims of both the perpetrators and the system.