Child abuse reports on the rise! Help kids be alert!
Each year, approximately 40 million children worldwide are subjected to child abuse according to the World Health Organization. In Malaysia alone, reports of child abuse hover around 26% from 2009 to 2010. An average of seven children is abused in different ways every day in Malaysia. The Malaysian federal police force revealed that it is a high record. In 2010, 2426 rape cases were reported to the police – that is a monthly average of 202 cases! In addition, another 1610 cases of “outraging modesty” and 147 cases of sodomy were registered. However these statistics are notoriously unreliable. The above figures represent only reported cases to the Department of Social Welfare, police or hospitals. The actual numbers are most certainly higher.
Because of the sensitive nature of this issue in Malaysia, only a few cases end up in court. Even then, it could take up to five years for the trial to conclude. Child abuse is a punishable offence in Malaysia under the Child Act (2010) and the Penal Code (revised 1997). And while victims wait for justice to come there are things that we can do to prevent child abuse from happening. We need to empower ourselves with knowledge about child abuse and what we can do as individuals or in a group to stop it.
One of the most important actions to take is to listen to our children and take even small matters seriously. We have to keep in mind that all forms of child abuse- emotional, physical, sexual or negligence are not rare experiences. Children of all ages, races, ethnics and economic backgrounds are vulnerable. It affects both boys and girls in all kinds of neighbourhoods and communities in countries around the world. That is why the focus should not only be on detection, but on prevention and communication- by teaching children about their body and what are the boundaries that people must never trespass. They should also encourage them to have an open communication at all times. Some subjects are easier to discuss with our children such as – sports and school friends. Others such as child abuse are more difficult. Research however has shown that children whose parents talk to them about preventing abuse are more effective at fending off assaults.
Often abuse comes from within the child’s home and many times it is the parents who enable the abuse or perpetrate the abuse. The recommended approach is to teach a child to use his/her voice to say “no” or tell someone. But how much of a voice does a child really have? Generally, it is only as much as the parents allow. It is essential to provide a lifestyle of open communication and healthy support. Words are important, but be aware of non-verbal messages you may be sending. It is how you treat your child, how you treat yourself and the behavior you model that will impact him/her the most!
Here are some more tips on preventing/battling child abuse:
- Does your child know how special he/she is to you? A Child’s need for love is stronger than the need to avoid danger. Teach your child awareness of dangerous activities and lures used to entice children. Children think in black and white and see people as all good or all bad. That is why instead of teaching your child to recognize bad people, teach him/her to recognize bad situations and behaviours.
- Empower your child! Are you willing to back up your child’s “no”? Do you think a child’s feelings are less important than an adult’s feelings? If you discount his/her emotions, how do you expect your child to value his/her own emotions? Teaching your child to be aware is only effective if he/she is also empowered to do something about it.
- Listen to what your child isn’t saying. Sometimes children can’t articulate how they’re feeling, but they act out. One way a child “tells” is through his/her behaviour. Let your child know he/she can tell you about anything that happens to him/her no matter who did to him/her. A high percentage of abuse is committed by authoritative figures. Children are more vulnerable with these people since they are taught to listen to these adults.
- Abuse thrives in secrecy. Teach your child when to keep a secret and when to tell. If a child is too young to know the difference, then he/she is too young to carry the burden of a secret and should be taught to tell. Secrets that make kids feel bad, scared or confused should not be kept.
- There is no list that can cover everything a parent or community can do to prevent a child from being abused. Eliminating violence towards children is a holistic approach which encompasses a wide range of services and policies to support and protect children. These services and policies should include: child care and family support programs, mental health counseling for victims and their families, access to legal counsel and many more.
The Malaysian cultural and social environment proclaims unquestioned obedience to adults, which makes it harder for abused children to confront their offenders. In addition, a weak judicial system is another hurdle. People often don’t want to get involved with the police because they feel that little is done and the consequences for the abused children are often worse than those who abuse these children.
However, every child has the right to grow in a safe environment and to be sheltered from all forms of abuse. This environment is only possible when society unites around children’s basic rights, openly confronting violence and defending their right to protection.