KUALA LUMPUR: If the Welfare Department’s statistics are anything to go by, 14 child abuse cases occur a day. Many more go unreported.
Police figures show that in the past five years, only 1,559 cases were reported.
Of the total, 348 cases were brought to court, 124 cases convicted, while 243 cases were listed under the “no further action” category. Another 764 cases are under investigation while 80 are “kept in view” due to a lack of evidence.
The New Straits Times were told by some parents, whose children are either dead or living with injuries having fallen victims to their caregivers, that the authorities were not doing enough to safeguard their children and prosecute the perpetrators.
They are worried that many child abusers run free on the streets.
On the flipside, the authorities claimed that their investigations were hindered by a lack of manpower and coordination between police, medical officers and the Welfare Department.
There is also a need to simplify procedures of reporting child abuse cases.
Bukit Aman Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division principal assistant director Ong Chin Lan, speaking exclusively to NST before her retirement in August, said a lack of evidence was among the challenges faced by the authorities.
She said the authorities could not act because of the delay in the issuance of medical reports and parents withdrawing their reports.
She admitted that a lack of manpower and cooperation hindered enforcement.
“We (the division) do not only handle child abuse cases, but also rape and domestic violence ones. In some districts, we don’t even have enough investigating officers and priority has to be given to murder cases.
“In other countries, they have teams visiting the crime scene, recording statements and holding meetings, but that is rarely the case here because everyone is bogged down.
“Every month, we would have the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect team’s meeting where we discuss every case, but that is not enough. We should have a case-by-case team to allow us to run through each case effectively.”
The NST found that many cases had to be dropped due to inexperienced police investigators and medical officers.
A source familiar with child abuse cases said some investigating officers were inclined to follow the parents’ claim of an accident and conclude the incident as a sudden death case.
“Some depended on physical marks, bruises or other external injuries, but you can’t find these in cases of shaken baby syndrome or other non-accidental injury.
“In most cases, you would find only subdural haemorrhage.
“It may be difficult to identify if the injury was done on purpose or if it was an accident, but it depends on how you investigate.
“It is the responsibility of the police to investigate whether it was an accident or done on purpose.
“Police must visit the crime scene to collect evidence and gather statements to match the stories told,” the source said.
The source said many cases were dismissed because medical officers could not determine if the victim had been abused.
“Sometimes, doctors were unable to provide solid medical statements. They gave too many plausible reasons for the injuries, thus confusing the police.
“In the end, the police would have to come up with their own conclusion,” the source said, adding that some doctors also refused to report any suspected case of abuse to avoid the hassle of going to court if the case was tried.
The source claimed that some deputy public prosecutors refused to take some cases to court.
“There were times when we thought that we had a solid case but the DPP refused to charge the perpetrators. But when we brought the case to a different DPP, the case was taken to court,” the source said.
Ong called on private medical institutions to train their personnel to handle child abuse cases.
“We have been working closely with those in the One Stop Crisis Centre. Most hospitals provide in-service training.
“These institutions need to train their staff on how to differentiate between natural and abused injuries.”
She said the division seldom received reports of child abuse from private medical institutions, adding that even if there were any, most involved only serious injuries.
Reporting child abuse is just a call away
SAVING the life of a child is just a phone call away. Talian Kasih, a 24-hour hotline, was created as a platform for society to report child abuse.
In an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times, Welfare Department director-general Mohd Fazari Mohd Salleh said his men were always ready for rescue operations.
“The public can lodge reports at any of our offices or police stations or call our 24-hour hotline number at 15999.
“We will take action immediately. Our officers will visit the place with police to rescue the child.”
In 2015, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, then women, family and community development minister, voiced concern about the lack of reports from the public.
Of the 413,449 calls received between December 2007 and April 2015, only 6,006 or 1.5 per cent were on domestic violence and child abuse.
Fazari said depending on the seriousness of the case, his officers would decide whether the child should be removed from the house immediately or to adopt other means, such as giving counselling to the parents.
“Whenever we take action, we put the interest of the child first. When we rescue a child, we will send him to the hospital for examination and if it is a confirmed abuse case, we will get the court’s permission to place the child at our childcare centre for a month. In that period, we will investigate and prepare a report.”
Fazari said based on the report, the court would decide whether the child should be surrendered to his parents with a two-year good behaviour bond or be given to the child’s relatives, adopted parents or placed at the department’s childcare centre.
However, he said there could be delays due to the sheer number of cases.
Tedious procedures, safety concerns hamper reporting
TEDIOUS procedures and safety concerns are among the reasons preventing many people, especially teachers, from reporting child abuse cases.
A school’s action and flowchart in dealing with cases of abuse sighted by the New Straits Times showed that teachers will have to prepare a report for the Education District Office and set up a task force to investigate the allegation.
The NST heard of one case where the school principal had passed on the task of reporting a child abuse case to a camp organiser.
The principal had sent an 11-year-old student, who was abused by his parents, to a motivational camp organised by Juliana Sawarin, who is secretary of the Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association Education and Training Secretariat.
She said the boy had old and new bruises on his body, which he hid by wearing a jacket.
“We had wondered why the boy was sent to our camp.
“We talked to the school principal and he told us that they were hoping that we would notice the injuries and help the boy.
“Apparently, the principal had met the boy’s parents, who admitted to causing the injuries.
“They promised not to repeat, but unfortunately the beating did not stop,” she said.
Asked why the school did not lodge a report, Juliana said there were too many procedures involved, including safety concerns.
“It involves the Education District Office and the state Education Department before a case reaches the police. Teachers have a lot on their plate, so that is why some cases were overlooked. Some may be scared for the safety of the school and their own.”
In the case of the 11-year-old boy, she said rescuing him was not easy.
She claimed that the police’s standard operating procedure on child abuse cases was too complicated, adding that it might jeopardise the safety of the victims.
“I lodged a report and brought along photographic evidence, hoping that police would act faster and save the boy who was, at that time, in the care of his parents.
“Police said they could not remove the boy from the care of his parents as it would be considered kidnapping.
“We had wanted them (police) to save the boy, who would surely have got further beatings from his parents after knowing that a report had been lodged against them.”
Former National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) president Hashim Adnan said teachers might not want to get involved in such cases, including disciplinary ones, for fear of legal action.
NUTP president Kamarozaman Abd Razak said the lack of cooperation between some quarters in the Welfare Department made handling such cases difficult.
“Schools should report such cases to the Welfare Department, but in some districts, the department’s offices are not that cooperative because they don’t have enough staff.”