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JANUARY 17 — Like a Kaleidoscope, the effects of the pandemic can be seen in many angles. One such angle is the psychosocial effect on children.
The news article “More child Incest cases coming out to light during the MCO, Bukit Aman reveals (Malay Mail, 15th January)” are one disturbing trend that is on the rise. In the article, it was reported that a total of 259 cases were received in 2020. In another article in December 2020, “Incest cases spike in Melaka during MCO, says cops (The Star, 8 December 2020).” In this article, it was reported that incest cases recorded during this period saw an increase of almost 100% compared to previous years and most of them occurred in rural areas.
However, due to the sensitivity of the issue, what have been reported would most probably reflect the tip of the iceberg. Most individuals choose to suffer silently as ‘coming out’ would result in a family member being charged and in many instances, even family members who are in the know convince the victims to sweep the issue under the carpet to stay away from the scrutiny of the authorities.
It is estimated that a total of over 2 million children have to stay at home due to the pandemic and living conditions of certain children may result them to be highly vulnerable too to the ever lurking perpetrators who prey on their family members.
It is important for us to understand that lack of personal space in the household and sexual exploitation can have an enduring effect on children and adolescents’ mental health which could result in them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in years to come.
A study carried out at the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) clinic of Hospital Kuala Lumpur reported that 33.3% of the survivor of the sexual abuse has been diagnosed for depression. Many local and international studies have shown that sexual abuse is equally as harmful as physical abuse. It also been observed to have long term effects on their mental, psychosocial and physical growth. Sadly, the effects on these children may manifest in many forms.
As mentioned in many past studies, children who have been victims of sexual exploitation especially incest, have a higher likelihood to be involved in early sexual activities which may eventually lead to unwanted pregnancies and due to this; resorting to termination of pregnancy, in most occasions in unsafe circumstances. There have been instances also, for a seriously affected young person; sexual activity might also be used for diversion, to relieve tension and as a salve of attention-seeking. As such, it is important for us to explore the sexual behaviour of young people with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders and provide them with the tools to cope with their mental health issues.
As we discuss on the increased rate of incest cases in Malaysia, it is important for us to keep in mind that past studies have highlighted that there is still a lack of knowledge among Malaysian young people in sexual and reproductive health rights and issues. The most basic rights of children in sexual and reproductive health is to obtain accurate and complete information about their body functions, good touch and bad touch, their rights, sex and sexuality, reproduction and early pregnancy.
There is a need for coordinated, consistent and comprehensive interventions to improve the mental and emotional health of our young people in order for them to make informed choices. One such intervention is to introduce Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in our schools to empower the children of our country especially in this unprecedented time in making informed choices about their lives. CSE programmes will also provide them with life skills to deal when facing with peers and life pressures.
It is high time for us to acknowledge the importance of such a programme in the early development of children and demand for such interventions to take place to avoid many more of our children ending up as victims which will lead them to have an array of psychological issues that may lead to risky behaviours. These interventions will pave way for our children to have comprehensive information and make informed choices; and most importantly redirect our approach in addressing this imperative subject in a preventive context rather than the remedial strategies that we have placed our focus on in the past.
Thus, since the Covid 19 pandemic, it is important we should consolidate our efforts and work towards addressing the needs of our children. Current efforts by many agencies working towards this objective are commendable. It is important that we look at sustainable programs that must be contextually relevant material for children and adolescents in mitigating this pandemic for the best interest of their safety.
A comprehensive curriculum, support system, policies, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and most importantly; strategic collaboration needs to be in place to bridge the gap and keep one of the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals of “leaving no one behind” (Sustainable Development Goals are a UN-led call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity; there are 17 goals).
In has been decades now the agenda of CSE have been pushed by various agencies in protecting our children, but in the contrary; there have been parties who have voiced their opinions strongly that CSE would only teach our children about sex and encourage them to be involved in risky behaviors.
Looking at the trends in the rise, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, ‘that helping the child to have access to information that will empower them to know their rights better than allowing another child to be sexually abused or groomed by someone who is supposed to be the person the child trust the most?’
*This statement is submitted by Associate Professor Dr. Kamal Kenny, Chairman, Federation of Reproduction Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM).
**This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.