Public abuse of children must not be tolerated

parenting

We recently witnessed the extremely distasteful and undignified behaviour of Datuk Seri Aliff Syukri Kamarzaman who not just allegedly physically abused his daughter but also publicly shamed her on social media.

His response to critical comments has been “Jaga anak sendiri, jangan sibuk hal saya” (loosely translated “look after your own children, don’t poke your nose in my business”).

He is not correct in saying this.

When a parent fails a child, the state must act to support children; there are laws to ensure this happens. Society at large also has a responsibility to voice its concerns and make a call for action.

The responsibility of parenting is not just that of the parents but also of society and government.

Let’s consider the issues revealed by this father’s behaviour.

Why have the Welfare Department and police not acted immediately?

The police and Welfare Department’s response had been muted and non-existent in the beginning, until public outcry ensued. Our police seem to be variable in their response.

They act quickly on social media comments which they view as seditiious (even raiding homes) but are very slow to support a child that is allegedly abused. Both the Welfare Department and police suggest to us that they require reports before taking action. This is not true.

Under the Child Act 2001 (amended 2016) there is clear provision for taking a child into temporary custody.

Section 18 states “Any Protector (Welfare Officer) or police officer who is satisfied on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care and protection may take the child into temporary custody, unless the Protector or police officer is satisfied that the taking of proceedings in relation to the child is undesirable in the best interests of the child ….”

If the authorised guardians of children in our country do not act, then what hope is there for children at large?

Even now, days later and after much public concern and police reports, has any real action been taken?

Yes, the Welfare Department has visited the father but has the child been sent for a medical examination to determine physical and emotional abuse?

Has the child been interviewed privately by professionals (paediatricians) to ascertain the quality of parenting and prior episodes of abuse, if any?

Why is the child not in protective custody of the Welfare Department or in hospital (a place of safety)?

What message are we sending to the general public when the authorities do not act immediately? That the authorities view this behaviour as acceptable? That the authorities will not act unless the public kicks up a fuss? That parents can do whatever they like to children and the authorities will turn a blind eye even when our laws demand action?

The issue here is not just the unacceptable behaviour of this man but also the failure of our civil service to rescue and support children when necessary.

What is our understanding of child abuse and parental rights?

The Child Act is very clear on the definition of all types of abuse, including physical abuse. Section 17(2)(a) states that “For the purposes of this part, a child is physically injured if there is substantial and observable injury to any part of the child’s body as a result of the non-accidental application of force or an agent to the child’s body that is evidenced by, amongst other things, a laceration, a contusion, an abrasion, a scar, ….”

This child suffered a beating with a rotan that left bruises and caused significant pain. This, under the Child Act, is abuse and not discipline. It is no longer a family issue (“mind your own business”) but a legal one.

Saying sorry is insufficient. An evaluation of the family is required to see their fitness to care for all their children and prevention of future episodes is vital.

In addition, the public portrayal of the episode by the father, the shaming of this child on social media constitutes additional possible emotional abuse. The long-term consequences for this child are of serious concern.

The video of her will live on in the Internet that has an elephant’s memory. This significant, negative event may scar her for life. She requires an evaluation and possible therapy.

So we need to ask, for what conceivable reason did he display his child on social media in this negative manner for all to see?

It is also time we stopped circulating these videos of the children (in their best interest and to minimise long-term trauma) and focus on getting the authorities to take action now.

The response of society, and religious and corporate bodies

That some segments of our society approved of the behaviour of this father is of serious concern. We will never achieve developed nation status as long as Malaysians only use hitting and shouting as discipline methods with their children. There are so many more effective and positive ways to discipline children.

The silence of religious authorities is another issue for concern.

This is not the way to promote religion or encourage children to find God.

This is a child that we’re dealing with and she requires encouragement and understanding, not brute force. We need to be concerned that religious authorities, by their silence, are endorsing such an unacceptable behaviour.

What will be and is the response of Astro and Facebook regarding this event? Will Facebook remove this unpleasant video that shames this little girl? Will Astro take action to remove this man from their programme and boycott his prior films, website and products?

A meaningful response from corporate bodies will send a clear message of hope to children, that any form of abuse will never be tolerated.

My dream is that one day Malaysia will be a nation that embodies the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). That one day in Malaysia “in all actions concerning children …. the best interests of the child shall be our primary consideration.”

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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