Saturday, November 27, 2010
EARLIER this year, the life of a small child was cut short. She died from injuries to her brain, stomach and kidneys inflicted by an adult who was taking care of her, a person she should have been able to trust and depend on.
An autopsy conducted found cuts and bruises all over her body, believed to have resulted from previous instances of abuse. Her case was, and is, not an isolated incident.
According to 2008 statistics from the Welfare Department, the number of abuse cases is increasing and now, an average of seven children are abused in different ways every day in Malaysia.
But these figures are only based on reported incidents. Many more children are hidden behind these numbers and if they eventually get recorded, it may already be too late.
Can we prevent these abuses from happening at all? Yes, I believe we can. But to achieve this, everyone must regard child abuse as unacceptable and be prepared to take action and intervene.
In the case of this child, there were witnesses who saw her being abused close to her home. No one interfered. I can't believe that this was because they condoned what they saw. I think there is a widespread uncertainty about how to interpret what you see and how to act. Had these witnesses known how to act and be prepared to do it, the small Malaysian child may still be alive today.
There are mechanisms in place to support such action. Police and government agencies are trained to handle this kind of cases. An immediate report would have mobilised a team of law enforcers to save the child from further abuse and, in this case, death. Intervention depends on family members, neighbours and bystanders who have the knowledge and spirit to intervene and put a stop to the abuse before it is too late.
In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Malaysia has introduced the Child Act 2001 to guarantee the protection for children. With this legislation, not only can abusers be held accountable for their actions, informers are guaranteed anonymity and protection by law.
Furthermore, Childline Malaysia, a civil society initiative, has collaborated with the government to set up the dedicated hotline, 15999, where the public, as well as children themselves, can call for advice or report abuse. It is crucial that people know and utilise these services, and that they feel they can make a difference.
We need to empower ourselves with knowledge about child abuse and what we can do as individuals or in groups to stop it. To provide an opportunity for this, Unicef has set up a dedicated website, www.uniteagainstabuse.my, where people can learn more about the issue and what to do to protect a child from abuse.
This website is part of the larger Get on Board campaign by Unicef to encourage people to break their silence and take responsibility for the children around them -- be it in their home and families or in their communities. We each have an important role to play.
The Get on Board campaign clearly recognises the challenges parents go through in raising children, and provides a link to special services provided by the government to help cope with the stresses of parenting.
Unicef also urges communities to provide support activities for parents to manage the stress they face. By focusing on efforts to stabilise families and provide support for healthy child development, we are collectively creating an environment around us that reduces the likelihood of child abuse.
Every child has the right to grow up in a safe environment and to be sheltered from all forms of abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual or neglect. This environment is only possible when society unites around children's basic rights, openly confronting violence and defending their right to protection.
While the government is primarily accountable for translating the Convention on the Rights of the Child into reality, parents and other caregivers, like teachers, health workers, youth leaders as well as children themselves, have a crucial role to play every day to protect the rights of children.
Very young children who lack the capacity to report abuse, or older children who fear reprisals by perpetrators should be able to rely on the people around them to take action.
What we see in statistics of reported cases only tells us a small part of the truth about child abuse in Malaysia. We need to know more. Thorough research is needed to help the government establish benchmarks for measurement of child abuse.
Data from this research would also make it possible to monitor future trends in abusive behaviour towards children and society's attitude towards it. This kind of evidence-based intervention is equally important for individual interventions by family members and the community.
We cannot wait for more children to die or be scarred for life. Everyone must be ready to take action. The silence must be broken. I invite the people of Malaysia to get on board and unite against child abuse.
The writer is Unicef representative to Malaysia
Read more: Duty of all to stop child abuse http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/27hansomea/Article/#ixzz16YpBkPi5