LettersOPINION

Are the Education Authorities Failing to Protect Our Children?

We read again of another teacher who has preyed on children sexually. He was known to have abused children in the past and the education department’s action had been to transfer the teacher to another school where he did it again. It appears that the abuse of children in schools is often ‘covered up’, both in mainstream education and in tahfiz schools.

We should not treat this like an isolated incident and just ‘continue the same’. Sexual abuse of children by teachers is not uncommon. I have personally been approached by a number of teachers who have been concerned about a colleague who may be sexually abusing students. Most times they are reluctant to come forward or offer us concrete details for fear of action against them by the PPD (district education officer). I would conservatively say that more than 15-20 such situations are currently known to HMs, PPDs or religious school authorities, but not adequately acted on. In the past the Education Ministry has revealed 15 such cases over a 5-year period.

Most times when it comes to light the response of the education authorities is to transfer the person and offer monitoring and counselling. It is unlikely that such individuals can change easily and should not be trusted with children. Headmasters, the PPDs and the Education Ministry should not expect the problem to just ‘go away’. We may be putting more children in harm’s way.

These teachers often appear to be the ‘nicest’. They offer to do more for children; teachers that offer to take children for outings, extra classes, etc. Parents are led into believing they are good teachers. I recognise that suggesting this will damage the really supportive teachers, but we need to recognise the reality of what is happening (grooming).

Legislation to protect children, including school students, has been in place since 1991. Initially as the Child Protection Act 1991 and then as the Child Act 2001 (revised 2018). We however seem to fail to use it. The Child Act 2001 (revised 2018) clearly states in section 29 the duty of child care provider: “If a child care provider believes on reasonable grounds that a child is physically or emotionally injured as a result of being ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed, or is sexually abused, he shall immediately inform a Social Welfare Officer.” This should apply to all teachers whether in mainstream, private, international or religious schools. Teachers may want to claim that they are not ‘child care providers’ but the Child Act defines this clearly as “a person who looks after one or more children for valuable consideration for any period of time”.

Section 29 goes on to say that “Any child care provider who fails to comply commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both”. It is important to ask if the Child Act is actually used to protect children in Malaysia and whether our education authorities, mainstream and religious, are failing children?

We need a supportive system that encourages the protection of children, enables the reporting of suspicious behaviour and clear action when children or staff report abuse. This means not keeping it confined to the education department but involving Welfare, Health and Police.

Finally all education facilities must have mandatory safety rules on working with children in all settings. These include:

  1. The ‘two adult rule’ – No adult should work with children on a one-on-one basis. It does not matter whether it is male to male or female to female, all work with children must have chaperones.
    Institute chaperoned contact time with all children in all environments in school or extra-curricular activities.
  2. ‘Open door’ policy – All counselling and small group activities should have an ‘open door policy’. This means that there is a ‘window’ in the door or a side window through which others can see what is occurring.

Please let’s be found committed to ensuring the best interests of our children and not be protecting the offenders.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh
Senior Consultant Paediatrician

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