This is an open letter to the Attorney General, Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, and the Welfare Ministry regarding the possible failure to follow basic investigation procedure in the tahfiz school sexual abuse. We appreciate that the Attorney General has offered clarification that he did not instruct the court in any way, but this does not offer any comfort as to the quality of the investigation procedure.
It is unreasonable to say that there is insufficient evidence to proceed.
Firstly, the child has given a statement that he has been sexually abused and this should be listened to. Secondly, the medical examination has confirmed that he was sexually abused. Thirdly, he has clearly identified the older children who are the alleged perpetrators who abused him. Fourthly, he has named the other children who were also allegedly sexually abused in the same tahfiz school. There is insufficient evidence because basic standard operating policy to investigate the case was not followed to obtain more evidence. Why was this not done?
We would appreciate if the Attorney General could have a hard look at the whole investigative procedure that was undertaken. There are two major failures that we can see.
Firstly, children who were identified as possibly being sexually abused should be brought to a medical officer to be examined. This was not done despite it being requested by the paediatricians involved in the index sexually abused child. This is standard operating policy in any case of child abuse. When we find an index case of sexual abuse it is important to investigate and examine other children to see if others have also been sexually abused in the same facility or home.
Secondly, the older children who allegedly sexually abused this child are also required to be examined. We know very well from prior experience and good data that when one child sexually abuses another, the perpetrator often has a past history of sexual abuse as well. These students should also have been brought to a medical officer for examination and evaluation. This was also not done.
We would like to ask the Attorney General who makes a decision whether a child has been sexually abused? Have the police now become medical professionals that they can diagnose child abuse? Kindly do not justify this by saying that police and welfare officers have interviewed children at the tahfiz school and that they have said they have not been sexually abused.
That is definitely not the environment to interview children in (intimidating). We know very well that sexually abused children are silenced and hence need a trained medical professional to examine them to confirm the presence or absence of abuse. The police and welfare cannot do this.
We would also appreciate if the Welfare Ministry could have a hard look at the investigative procedure that was undertaken by their staff.
Firstly, we understand that the Welfare Department staff had initial difficulty to visit the tahfiz school. Does the Child Act not cover all children in Malaysia and all school environments and all suspected sexual abuse situations? Secondly, the Welfare Department staff did not bring children that were informed to them as being possibly sexually abused for examination by a medical officer. Thirdly the Welfare Department staff did not bring children that were informed to them as possible sexual perpetrators for examination by a medical officer (same reasoning as above). Why did the Child Protectors fail?
We also need to ask what has happened to all the other children who are alleged to be sexually abused, as well as the child sexual perpetrators?
Since these children have been denied medical care to confirm or deny being sexually abused, we are now not able to offer them support. They may be suffering in silence. Some have the potential to continue abusing other children. All face serious long term psychological problems. We appeal to the parents of these children and the children themselves to speak up and not be silenced or intimidated in anyway; help is available. Finally one fear, since nothing has been resolved, is that sexual abuse may continue to be occurring at the school.
This is not a one-off failure but a recurrent issue in many similar situations.
In our experience as paediatricians, this is not a one-off event. We have seen similar failure in basic standard operation policy around the country again and again. It is time to stop the abuse of children by the system. The people who are entrusted with the protection of children must ensure their safety.
Who will be held responsible for these failures in basic standard operating policy?
So we ask our Attorney General and the Welfare Department who are they going to hold responsible for the obvious failure in basic standard operating policy in this case and many other cases like it? Or are we going to continue with the ‘Malaysia Boleh’ same situation again and again where we sweep this under the carpet with ‘no further action’ and continue denying children the care, safety and protection that they need.
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.