THERE are too many child abuse cases in Malaysia. Some 14 cases are reported daily. But many remain beyond the ken of the authorities.
Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable because they cannot do without their caregivers.
And they have little to no chance to report abuses. One child abuse case is one too many. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), only extreme child abuse cases are reported while some 90 per cent go unreported. Just in five months this year, 2,596 cases of child abuse have been reported throughout the country.
Statistics for the remaining seven months may mean more bad news. Violence does not only leave behind physical scars but also causes other impairments that are not so obvious to the eyes. Abused children find it hard to learn or socialise. They withdraw from the world and live in silent torment. What is more dangerous, victims of child abuse become dysfunctional adults and abusive parents themselves.
Pain has staying power. It remains long after the child has forgiven the abuser. The causes of child abuse are numerous and complex. Many of the reported cases point to family breakdown and substance abuse by parents.
Poverty and stress are there in the cause list, too.
Experts tell us that the best way to stop child abuse is to prevent it from happening. We agree. To do this, community heads, school authorities and religious leaders must join hands in a national effort to identify and help at-risk children.
The nature and number of child abuse cases are compelling enough for these eminent members of society to engage in advocacy against all manner of child abuse. People’s attitudes and behaviours need to be changed. Yes, there are laws to curb violence against children. But legislation can only do so much.
Advocacy must reach the hearts and minds of the people. It must help remove the root causes leading to violence. While these preventive measures are undertaken country-wide, we must not forget to put in place measures to help people respond to and monitor child abuse.
Child-friendly reporting procedures are crucial. They must locate centres of child abuse for them to be effective.
Studies show violence mainly happens at home, schools, educational institutions, community settings and care centres. It is at these locations that child-friendly helplines are needed. Reporting procedures should encourage reporting, not place hurdles along the way. A child only has precious minutes to report any abuse. All it needs is a minute for a child to be maimed. Or worse. Procedures that exist are tedious and discourage reporting. Helplines must help, not hamper. The vulnerable sometimes have to be protected from their loved ones. As the New Sunday Times had reported, we are not doing enough to to stop child abuse. We need to do more.