JULY 6 — UNICEF Malaysia is deeply concerned over the recent case of severe child abuse that has been highlighted in the media over the past week. More so, because we know this is not an isolated case. According to data available from the Department of Social Welfare, an average of nine children suffered abuse in Malaysia every day in 2011. And that figure applies only to reported cases. Many more children suffer abuse and neglect in silence and behind closed doors.
To best protect children from harm, action is needed before the harm ever takes place. That means fostering, creating and building an environment that protects and upholds their rights to be cared for and to feel safe, so as to prevent cases of abuse from ever occurring.
Building a protective environment for children requires not just a change in attitudes, roles and responsibilities, but also ensuring that appropriate laws and regulations are being implemented, along with a fair and transparent justice system for children and necessary measures of intervention.
Prevention involves enhancing the current child protection system to make it more effective and efficient in protecting a child throughout his or her young life. This calls for a system that takes into account identity, citizenship, laws and measures of protection at the grassroots and national levels. A system that includes adults and guardians at every step of the process — from the involvement of family, community and educators, to the participation of law enforcement, welfare authorities and judiciary. A system that mandates the necessity and importance of data-gathering, to protect more children from getting hurt.
The current revision of the Child Act 2001, aimed at strengthening the legal protection of children from abuse, neglect and exploitation, is a positive step. However, in cases of severe abuse and neglect, much more needs to be done.
Most importantly, efforts to end child abuse depend upon all of us — immediate family members, relatives, teachers, community heads, religious leaders, the police, and ALL adults in this country. It requires us to actively take on the responsibility for speaking out against abuse and speaking up for children. We need to break the silence. We need to stand up for children who cannot stand up for themselves. We cannot stand by when we see, or suspect we are seeing evidence of, a child being abused and neglected. Violence against children is wrong, no matter who commits it. Challenging perpetrators is the right thing to do and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malaysia ratified 20 years ago, outlines the responsibility to do so.
Violence against children is never justifiable, nor is it inevitable. Cycles of violence can stop. But it requires identifying and addressing the underlying causes and factors that contribute to maltreatment, so we can finally put a stop to the kind of gruesome child abuse and neglect we have been witnessing, all too often.
* UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action.
** This is the personal opinion of the organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.