When The System Denies Children Justice — Dr Amar Singh-HSS

Why does it look like the tahfiz school and sexual abusers received more support from authorities than the victim?

The latest failure by a mother to get justice for her nine-year-old boy, who was repeatedly sexually abused together with other children in a tahfiz school, is a travesty of justice.

We hurt with her, but we cannot appreciate the anguish that she and her son have gone through and are still experiencing, especially with a system that has failed them repeatedly. Not to mention the pain of all the other children who were also anally abused.

It is important to question why the system has failed this child and other sexually abused children again and again. As children are voiceless and often ignored by the system, I have listed three questions for us to ask. I hope we can advocate to improve the situation for them.

Fact: Less than 5 per cent of cases of children who are sexually abused reach our courts (let alone convictions).

Question: Why are we failing our sexually abused children?

The police have quoted data that only 1,559 child abuse cases were reported to them in the past five years. Of which 348 cases were brought to court and 124 cases convicted. But Welfare Department data will show that 4-5,000 child abuse are reported each year and in the last five years alone, more than 5,000 sexually abused children have been reported.

Hence the majority of sexually abused children do not reach our courts and ‘no further action’ is the order of the day. Note the Child Sex Offenders Registry we have introduced will fail completely as the vast majority of child sexual abusers will not be convicted and hence not enter this registry.

There are many reasons for the failure of the vast majority of cases of child sexual abuse to reach the courts. They include the non-implementation of the Child Act by the authorities, the fact that police allow withdrawal of police reports of sexual abuse (hence not recorded), that it is a tremendous ordeal for children to testify and that often the deputy public prosecutor feels that there is insufficient evidence to proceed to court.

This has been the situation for a very, very long time and little has changed over decades. There have been some incremental attempts to provide video evidence taking in children but, by and large, there are very few trained individuals to obtain evidence from children. Our courts are still not child-sensitive or friendly.

Fact: Some tahfiz schools are not safe for children.

Question: Why is there still no oversight and control of these facilities to protect children?

There have been a number of reports in the media of sexual abuse occurring in tahfiz schools. In addition there have been reports of severe physical abuse occurring, often in guise of discipline. There have been more than 1,000 fires in these schools and more than 50 per cent of those inspected are considered fire unsafe. We are also aware that the curriculum is very varied and may not be comprehensive.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has been quoted to say that “I’d like to advise parents who wish to send their kids to religious schools: Make sure that they know the background of the teachers,” and “Some teachers are not even qualified to teach the Quran.”

The Deputy Islamic Affairs Minister, Fuziah Salleh, has promised that the government will amend current laws regulating tahfiz schools to prevent sexual abuses and protect students. We have however yet to see any concrete action.

Instead, we see a RM50 million allocation to tahfiz schools under the Budget 2020 with no oversight of child safety. The message we are giving here is one of political expediency over the safety of our children. We must recognise that this is not a religious issue but an issue of child protection.

Fact: The authorities have not been supportive in the Ipoh tahfiz school case.

Question: Why does it appear that the school and abusers have received more support from the authorities than the victim?

This nine-year-old boy and his mother have tried very hard to get justice but the system has not been supportive. The police appear to have completed initial investigations very rapidly; interviewing the school management, victim and other students and submitting a report within two weeks. We wonder about the completeness of such a report without other vital agencies (health and welfare) giving their input and reports.

The Welfare Department had difficulty entering the school to do an investigation. Despite a request by the Health Department to examine the many children who have also allegedly been abused at the school, these children were not brought forward, as required by the Child Act. A conclusion was made that other children were not abused despite the lack of a proper medical examination. We can only wonder how they are faring.

Despite the victim being able to name the perpetrators and other abused children, the child’s opinion has been ignored. Note that if indeed the sexual abuse was carried out by older children, these children also need to be examined by the health department and may need a child psychiatric evaluation.

This family has gone through enough. The mother has tried every avenue for the past three years to appeal for the system to help her. But yesterday was the final nail in the coffin. Even though the court had agreed that an offence did take place, the decision is to ‘drop the case’ and ‘no further action’ is the plan.

As a society, do we really we care for children?

Will children ever get justice from the system?

Do we care for the welfare of children as much as we care for the welfare of adults and those in power?

I sincerely hope the three questions above will be answered with hope for children.

We can best show this by proactively supporting this boy and his mother and give them the justice they deserve as well as protect other children.

Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a Senior Consultant Paediatrician based in Ipoh, Perak. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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