By Mariam Mokhtar
News emerged on 16 August, that a defenceless five-year-old was in critical condition and fighting for her life in intensive care at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital. The girl, who is suspected to have special needs, was allegedly a victim of child abuse.
Neighbours of the girl’s family declined to talk but one alleged that the victim was often caned severely by her mother. Another unsubstantiated source alleged that the victim was a quiet girl but she would often hurt herself by banging her head against the wall.
Three days after she was admitted, the head of the paediatric department Dr Amar Singh said that the child remained unconscious and had not shown any visible movement. When she was first rushed to hospital, she had to be resuscitated.
The girl’s father said that his daughter had been taken ill with high fever but doctors who examined her subsequently found bruising, cane marks and other scars on her head and body. The obvious signs of abuse prompted them to lodge a police report. Although the medical staff were unable to confirm how the wounds had been inflicted, they knew that the injuries were unlikely to be self-inflicted, because of their severity.
Although the doctors suspected possible internal injuries, they said that scans could only be performed once the victim’s condition had improved.
The day after the report was made, the girl’s parents were arrested at their home in Menglembu, and subsequently remanded in custody for five days. The Ipoh OCPD Asst Comm Sum Chang Keong said that the 39-year-old father and his 30-year-old wife were being investigated under Section 325 of the Penal Code for causing grievous hurt.
The Perak Women Development, Family, Community Welfare and National Integration committee chairman Rusnah Kassim said that the victim’s siblings, who were two and seven-years-old, had no signs of abuse and were being cared for by the Welfare Department.
Rusnah urged parents of special needs children to seek help with medical treatment, and support from groups and welfare homes. She warned parents that abuse of the child was not a form of discipline. She also stressed that neighbours could be more pro-active and alert the authorities if they were to notice or hear signs of child abuse.
In early August, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim claimed that in 2012, there were 3831 cases of child abuse, a rise of 12 per cent over the previous year. She said that in the first three months of this year, 1023 child abuse cases had been reported and that 669 of the victims were girls.
Rohani said that her ministry had various preventive measures to address the issue of abuse. Short-term measures would involve taking the child into a welfare home or the home of a guardian appointed by the court. Long-term measures would involve the various government agencies like the police, health and education ministries, and the social welfare department working in concert with the community.
Citing problems such as financial worries or work problems as the root cause of abuse, Rohani warned parents not to take out their frustrations on their children but to seek professional help instead.
No sentence that is passed down to the perpetrators of the abuse will undo the damage that has been inflicted on the children, who will have to bear the mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives.
Whenever a case of child abuse is highlighted in the papers, we hope that the particular case will be the last and that lessons will be learnt from the investigations that were conducted, but there are always more cases.
A child is more likely to be abused by a trusted adult, like a parent or a close family member, rather than by a stranger.
Children who are abused usually show unusual behaviour traits. They are highly distressed. Some may show signs of starvation, emaciation and may scavenge for food in bins. Other signs of abuse in the child, are neglect, manifested in an unkempt or dirty appearance. Sometimes, children are forced to lie to those who enquire about their bruising, with the claim that they sustained the injuries in a fall.
Many children are afraid of telling others about their abuse. Some are ashamed. They may be bullied or bribed into keeping the abuse secret. They are afraid that if they were to tell someone of their abuse, they would be responsible for the family unit being split up. Children may harbour fears of being separated from their parent, despite the parent being an abuser.
Some years ago, the Information Minister suggested more programmes to highlight child abuse. Was any feedback received about the success or failure of these programmes?
It was reported that in 2009, the Welfare Department established 139 centres at state and district levels throughout Malaysia, in which high-risk families and their children could receive counselling and child care services. Are these units successfully providing the necessary psychological and motivational support to the needy?
Many Malaysians wrongly believe that child protection is the job of the government or the NGOs. It is not. The protection of the child is mainly the parents responsibility, and to a certain extent, also the community’s responsibility.
Whilst education and community-based programmes on the prevention of child abuse may have helped create some awareness, many individuals are still reluctant to interfere when they suspect that a child is being abused. Most people are reluctant to be called busybodies.
Perhaps, if neighbours or close family members had intervened, their actions may have helped prevent the tragedy that befell the little girl from Menglembu.
Sadly, as Ipoh Echo goes to print, news came that the little girl has succumbed to her injuries. The case has now become one of murder.