Put a stop to child abuse

READERS would not have missed the front page report on May 22. The news was about an 11-year-old girl in Beijing who was beaten to death "for copying a classmate's homework!" She collapsed after the beating and was admitted to hospital. She died the next day.

The child abuse case drew outrage not only in China but all over the world. Such incidents are not limited by geographical boundaries and happen every day. The sad thing is, society hardly takes it seriously and often defends the abusers, who in most cases are the parents of the victims.

The Criminal Investigation Department recently reported that last year 136 child abuse (physical) cases were reported. And every year the numbers go up.

Child abuse has triggered grave concern among the government, community and NGOs. In almost all walks of society there has been a hue and cry for many years, and everyone strongly felt that something had to be done to protect vulnerable children from being physically tortured.

As a result, the Child Act of 2001 was legislated. However it should be remembered that only 25% of child abuse cases, mostly the serious ones, are reported to the police. In other words, many cases go unreported.

The cause can often be traced to our culture, social values and norms. Most of us would have read about the Malaysian couple who were arrested in Sweden and spent more than a month in a Swedish jail. Although they had diplomatic passports, they did not have diplomatic immunity.

They were arrested by Swedish police who received a report that their four children, aged 9 to 14, were repeatedly beaten for refusing to perform their prayers.

This case is controversial as it involves the parents' moral obligation to guide and control their children's behaviour, religious duties, and the duty of children to obey their parents.

It is my view that the Swedish police have a different understanding of abuse and bringing up children compared to what is accepted especially in the Asian social and religious context.

Nevertheless we are not discussing differences of culture or differences of legal interpretation concerning abuse of children. We are concerned about protection of children and how to stop the abuse.

We must know where to draw the line between "affectionate guidance" and "physical abuse". We should not be carried away by exaggerated stories or by "self-imposed rules of discipline" by over-enthusiastic parents.

When children are victimised as a result of a broken home or an alcoholic parent, personal hatred or vested interests, they should be protected by all means – social, legal and communal.

A child is an individual with the same human rights as an adult. By creating a law to protect children, we cannot guarantee their safety. With better education, we need to change our attitudes, modify our cultural motivation and last, but not the least, change our mindsets regarding the upbringing of children.

In this context, it is worth quoting a spokeswoman from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

She says the problem of child abuse starts at home. Therefore it is necessary that different departments of the government such as the police, health, education and welfare work hand in hand with NGOs to root out these social evils. Because in many cases abuse begins with parents who bring home their frustrations from work and take it out on the children.

Financial problems can also cause one or both parents to turn violent and take out their frustrations on their children. Any personal, social or psychological problem can be resolved with professional help from counsellors, therapists and psychiatrists.

It is society's responsibility to educate its citizens. To achieve this, it is important to sensitise the media who inform and enlighten the man in the street.

Khairul Bashar is a former journalist and has served in the UN. He now lectures on Communication, Journalism and Political Science. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com