OnPointe - Always ensure children’s safety

A FOREIGN man travelled in and out of our borders for years repeatedly abusing children. In 2014 he was arrested in London's Gatwick airport as he got off a flight from Malaysia "where he committed most of his crimes" according to Britain's crime agency.

How did this happen? Was he one of the many who bypassed our tampered airport immigration systems? No that was just the illegals who slipped away right?

But when did Malaysians hear about this abuse? Last week. We read about it because he was finally on trial and it was covered by most major news outlets around the world. Last week, not any earlier.

Not only has so much wrong happened, so much wrong was allowed to happen after his arrest. Many questions run through my mind.

How does someone enter the country so easily without working visas or any form of proper documentation and spend years here? Was this a kind of white privilege that gave him special treatment to bypass basic checks and controls? Did we just assume that he was safe because he came from Britain? What was it that allowed him so much access?

Then comes the responsibility of those who employed him. He was arrested in 2014. Have the organisations and religious bodies that employed him, the people who were in charge of him come forward?

Why is it that Malaysian authorities are only now thinking of strengthening the Child Act 2001 if they have been aware of this for years? Shouldn't discussions on child protection laws been expedited in Parliament instead?

And why did Britain catch him and not Malaysia?

I am not the only one asking these questions but what is evident is that we are not really serious about protecting our children. Because if we were, June 2016 is not when we would be talking about strengthening child protection laws. It should already have been done. 2016 is not the year we would be considering a new law against child pornography. It would already be in effect.

But then again, we are the very country that just last year vouched and brought home the third year math genius who was convicted of possessing more that 30,000 videos and photographs of child pornography.

How serious are we about protecting our children? Clearly from the statements below, we are not serious.

Close to 4,000 children between the age of six and 18 have been reported missing between 2014 and January this year.

Between January and May, there have been 567 cases of missing children.

These children cannot remain statistics. What this shows is that we have failed too many children. Why have we not taken to the streets asking for more for these children then? Don't they deserve justice? Let us not forget that this is the country where Nurin's killers still roam free.

If there are children in your care, you would know how scared you are to leave your child's hand or let them walk to the playground on their own. We have to watch our kids so closely and even when they are older, going to a public bathroom alone is not safe. Children are not allowed to be children and the adults who care for them have to stay extra vigilant. That is how corrupt our society is.

While it is crucial that our laws be strengthened and policies consolidated, we know child protection goes beyond the law. We also need community awareness and ethical media practices.

From this recent crime, what is evident is that the media in Malaysia are still not qualified or responsible in their reporting about minors. The details of what these children went through is not the public's business and neither are news stories detailing what happened to them considered advocacy. It is a violation and exploitation of the child all over again. This time in a different form.

The children should not be paraded by the media. Their dignity, rights and confidentiality should be respected in every situation. There are guides and principles on ethical reporting on children, and the media need to be held responsible to ensure that the children are not just a news story.

The children, their family and the community that have been in contact with this paedophile need professional help and we need to do more for them. The damage is not just on one generation but on multiple generations.

They were targeted because they are vulnerable, poor and marginalised. We placed them in that situation and we allowed them to remain in that situation. So this is where we need to start helping them because we failed these children and their families on multiple levels and we seem to be continuing to fail them.

The pity, the sadness, the anger that we feel need to be transformed into empowering these marginalised communities to know their rights and give them agency. Something good has to come out of this.

A lawyer pointed out that the multiple concurrent life sentences handed down to the paedophile is not enough because life sentences are only for life if served consecutively. Our laws need to reflect the gravity of what has happened.

Last month Indonesia introduced chemical castration for sex offences against children. At first thought, it sounds drastic and cruel and some say a violation of human rights. But right now, as inhumane as it may sounds, Malaysia should add this to the law.

The children in our country need to be protected. This protection cannot be a privilege based on social class or the postcode of one's abode. It is the right of all children to feel safe, protected and empowered, no matter how small.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com