The act of beating a child to death is murder and the culprit should be charged accordingly.FILE PIC

WHAT should have been a pleasant morning last Friday, turned out to be a most distressing moment for me as I read the tragic news of a 46-day-old baby girl who died on her way to Seberang Jaya Hospital (SJH), near Butterworth, Penang. Baby Nurul Ain Umairah (such a beautiful name) succumbed to her injuries at 10.45 am, believed to have been a victim of abuse at her home in Kampung Tok Panjang, Bukit Tengah, near Bukit Mertajam.

Bernama quoted Seberang Perai Tengah police chief, ACP Nik Ros Azhan Nik Abdul Hamid as saying that a preliminary medical examination and X-ray scan revealed the child had sustained multiple injuries, including a broken leg. Following initial investigations, police detained Nurul’s relative to facilitate investigations under section 31 (1) (a) of the Child Act 2001(Act 611). He was charged at court yesterday. At this juncture it is too early for us to conclude what caused her death.

On Nov 27, a 16-month-old boy died at the Penang Hospital, believed to have been a victim of abuse at his home in Kampung Paya Lahar Kepah, near Kepala Batas. North Seberang Prai district police chief ACP Noorzainy Mohd Nor told reporters that the child, Kong Chaw Wan, was treated at the intensive care unit of the Penang Hospital for extensive injuries. He also had bruises on the forehead, right cheek, below the left eye as well as old wounds on the chest, hand and leg.

Noorzainy said the child’s parents had brought him (then unconscious) to the Kepala Batas Hospital on Nov 22. The woman claimed her son had fallen while playing and hit his forehead on the living room floor before losing consciousness. However, according to a child specialist at the Kepala Batas Hospital, the injuries were from blunt force trauma against the forehead and right cheek. The specialist believes the injuries were deliberately inflicted and not accidental.

A week later, on Dec 5, the child’s mother pleaded guilty at the Butterworth Sessions Court to the charge under Section 31 (1) (a) of Act 611. She pleaded guilty after a translator read the charge to her. She maintained her guilty plea even after being informed of the consequences of her guilty plea and her conviction.

The two child deaths are the latest reported cases of our innocents after being abused by their parents. Apart from these two, there have been other cases where little children had been abused over a long period of time but somehow still managed to cling on to their lives. In January, a pregnant woman and her lover were charged at the Ampang Sessions Court for abusing her three children aged between 10-months and five years. Both pleaded guilty after the charge (under Section 31(1)(a) of Act 611) was read out to them.

It is tragic that these little children, who should have been cared for and protected with much love by their parents or guardians, had to suffer serious injuries (some leading to their early deaths) at the hands of these same people. It is equally harrowing to read news of such cases happening with such frightening regularity, as if we have no laws to prevent them from recurring.

Chapter 3 of Act 611 contains three sections dealing with “offences in relation to the health and welfare of children”. Section 31 describes the offence of ill-treatment, neglect, abandonment or exposure of children and carries with it the penalty (upon conviction) of a fine not exceeding RM20,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both. Incongruously, however, subsection (5)(b) states that a person may be convicted of an offence under Section 31 “notwithstanding that the child in question had died”. The other two provisions (Sections 32 and 33) are not discussed here as they are not relevant.

I would imagine that for most people in this country, the criminal action of any man or woman beating a child to death is nothing less than murder. It does not matter whether death results instantly or a few days later. In a case where a child had been beaten up and abused by their natural parents or guardians over a length of time, leading ultimately to his death, it seems strange that the perpetrators should only be charged under Section 31 of Act 611 (ill-treatment). It seems to place so little value on the sanctity of the child’s life.

Last May, a couple was arrested for allegedly beating their nine-year-old son to death. The incident happened in Subang Jaya and the parents had been remanded pending investigations. Subang Jaya district police chief ACP Mohammad Azlin Sadari told the media that police received a call from an employee at the clinic informing them of the boy’s death. The boy was brought to the clinic for treatment by his parents, but upon examination the doctor in charge found that the boy had already died. Initial investigation showed there were bruises on the boy’s face, hands, legs and buttocks. The boy’s father had a prior record for drug possession whilst the mother had a prior criminal record for house breaking and cheating.

I recently came across an interesting document titled, “Child Death Review Statutory Guideline”, issued by the United Kingdom government last October under the UK Children Act 2004. This statutory guidance applies to all organisations involved with the process of child death review and covers the deaths of all children, from whatever cause. I am not sure whether there is such a parallel or equivalent child death review procedure in this country under our Child Act 2001. Apart from revisiting Act 611, perhaps our authorities can ponder on the benefit of having such a child death review guideline in the future.

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The writer formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for practice, the corporate sector and, then, the academia