By Mariam Mokhtar
On August 15, the mainstream papers reported the death of a four-year-old girl. She had allegedly died after being abused by her mother’s boyfriend. The victim, J. Pavitra, had been brought by her 33-year-old mother to a 1Malaysia Klinik in Bercham, because she was ill. Clinicians confirmed that the child had died and subsequently contacted both the police and the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital for a post-mortem to be conducted.
Tests confirmed that the cause of death was internal bleeding but her body bore evidence of constant abuse. At the time of her death, she also had fresh injuries on her chest, as well as many older bruises.
Pavitra’s father had died two years ago and she was the youngest of four children. Her older brothers, aged 13 and 15 years, were placed in an orphanage in Taiping whilst her youngest brother aged six, had been adopted by a relative. Pavitra lived with her mother and the mother’s boyfriend, a part-time security guard.
State Criminal Investigation Department chief, Senior Assistant Commissioner Mohd Dzuraidi Ibrahim said that Pavitra’s mother was arrested while waiting to claim her daughter’s body from the hospital morgue whilst the boyfriend was detained at their home in Kampung Tawas, later that day. The case has been classified as murder and both people were remanded in custody, pending investigation. In a plea for witnesses to facilitate with inquiries, Dzuraidi said, “We urge the neighbours, and others with information, to assist us.”
When we read about Pavitra’s death, were we numb with shock, or numbed with indifference because it is yet another case of a child being abused? The beating which Pavitra suffered, at the hands of people who should have cared and protected her, is shocking. Her death is not the first, nor will it be the last, but how did her continual abuse go undetected by family members, neighbours and friends?
There are services which the public can call to highlight their concerns about child abuse. One of them is Talian NUR, telephone 15999. Are people not aware that such hotlines exist? Are people too scared to complain in case they are dragged deeper into something with which they want no connection? Sometimes, the system of reporting causes paranoia in the people who try to report the abuses.
Are people afraid of reprisals from the perpetrators of the crime? Are people so preoccupied with their own lives, that they can ignore a child’s screams? Were they so distressed by the pleas of the child that they shut out her cries for help? Were members of the family ashamed, so did not report the abuse?
A 4-year-old has died. Someone must have heard something or noticed something unusual.
A child who is repeatedly hit will show symptoms of abuse – physically, mentally and behaviourally. Unless she has been hidden away, family members like her grandparents or aunts and uncles, or the neighbours must have suspected something. If there had been early intervention to stop the beatings and the sustained abuse, Pavitra might still be alive today.
We may wonder why the mother did not do more to protect her child. Did she feel anger, frustration and sadness after the death of her husband and so could not cope? After her loss, her family was disbanded. Did this compound her sorrow?
Did she enter into an abusive relationship, with her boyfriend and became stuck in a vicious circle of hopelessness? As the country suffers an economic downturn, it is the women who suffer more, as there are fewer jobs on offer, the cost for child care increases and families have to tighten their belts further.
Malaysians must show more concern at the rise in cases of child abuse and more should be done to protect children. Public awareness needs to be increased, and people should be empowered and encouraged to become personally involved and support families and parents. Contrary to popular opinion, children suffer the most abuse from people they know, like parents, relatives and babysitters. Not strangers.
Child abuse is an offence in Malaysia and is punishable under the Child Act 2001 and the Penal Code 1997. Offenders may be liable for a maximum fine of RM50k and a prison term of 20 years, or both depending on the offence. Offenders may also be whipped.
Older children fear the threat of more severe ‘punishment’ by their abusers and so very few cases are reported. Younger children do not have the ability to say that they are abused and many cases remain undetected.
The “Talian NUR” hotline (15999) is the 24-hour helpline, which enables the authorities to intervene, for victims of domestic violence and child abuse. Last June, calls to NUR through public telephone booths in schools were made free. Calls are handled by trained people and in four languages; Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin and Tamil.
No one will consider you a busybody or hold you responsible for the break-up of a family should you report a child who is being abused or neglected; but you could end up saving a life.