Empowering Protection for Our Children
A report by the local newspaper recently showing that a high percentage of child sexual abusers are close family members such as fathers and stepfathers is heart-wrenching. It is even more heart-breaking when the report stated that most adults do not believe their children when they say that they have been sexually abused. Ironically, 98 per cent of the reported child abuse cases are true. Children are no doubt a great gift and trust from the Almighty Allah. They are even more worthy as compared to wealth and material resources. Thus, their physical, mental, psychological and intellectual needs must be met and they need to be protected from any form of harm, abuse and maltreatment. As such, if the situation persists, firm action should be on the cards and the abusers should face the music.
Child sexual abuse (CSA) covers a broad range of sexual activities perpetrated against children mostly by someone known and trusted by the child. According to the 1999 WHO Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention (62), child sexual abuse is “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society”. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. The intention of the activity is to gratify the needs of the other person.
Every country has enacted specific laws to safeguard the children from any kind of sexual abuse including Malaysia. Locally, the Child Act 2001 and the Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017 are designed to protect children. Section 31 of the Child Act clearly stipulates that the parent or guardian of a child who sexually abuses the child or causes or otherwise permits him to be abused is committing an offence. Upon conviction, the offender stand to be fined not exceeding RM50,000 or imprisoned not exceeding 20 years or both. Meanwhile, the Sexual Offences Against Children Act provides certain offences and their punishment such as sexually communicating with a child (maximum three years imprisonment), child grooming (maximum five years imprisonment and whipping), meeting, following child grooming (maximum 10 years imprisonment and whipping), physical sexual assault on a child (maximum 20 years imprisonment and whipping) and non-physical assault on a child (maximum 15 years imprisonment and maximum RM20,000.00 fine or both). Nevertheless, as in other criminal cases, law enforcement has always been a cause for concern. Laws are useless without effective enforcement, no matter how good they are. Therefore, this issue needs to be addressed immediately in order to meet the intent of the lawmakers and to protect the best interest of children.
Child sexual abuse is extremely damaging. Findings of researches haves proven that it has short- and long-term effects on the children. CSA has been correlated with high levels of depression, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, helplessness, conduct problems, denial, sexual and relationship problems. More recently, child sexual abuse has also been linked to psychotic disorders including schizophrenia and delusional disorder. Apart from these, survivors often experience guilt, shame, and self-blame which are also categorised as negative mental health effects. It has been shown that survivors frequently take personal responsibility for the abuse.
When the sexual abuse is committed by an esteemed trusted adult, it may be hard for the children to view the perpetrator in a bad light, thus leaving them incapable of seeing what actually happened as none of their fault. Survivors often blame and absorb negative messages about themselves. Survivors also tend to display more self-destructive behaviours as well as experience more suicidal ideation than those who have not been abused. However, not all victims experience such difficulties. Family support and strong peer relationship seem to be important in reducing the impact.
Taking into account the long list of negative impacts on sexually abused children, it is imperative to give enhanced protection a greater emphasis. It is equally important to extensively inculcate awareness amongst family members to believe the child’s complaint and to act upon it through police report and investigation. As stated in the book entitled, The Law of Domestic Violence (IIUM Press, 2019), the same duty needs to be imposed on neighbours, society members and teachers in the event of any suspicious occurrence of child abuse. It is a fact that no matter how the abusers hide their evil deeds, the crime will eventually be exposed. However, society needs to be given awareness on the importance of protecting and concealing the identity of the victim. Public attention on child abuse and child victimisation runs the risk of adding to the substantial burden shouldered by the victims. Publicity around a child’s victimisation heightens a child’s risk of experiencing shame and stigmatisation.
Protecting our children who are the future men and women is not solely the family’s responsibility. It is in fact the duty of the whole society. In Islam, every duty shouldered by every individual will be questioned on the Day of Judgement. This is indicated in a Hadith narrated by `Abdullah ibn `Umar r.a. in which Allah’s Messenger stated,
Surely! Every one of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges. The ruler of the people is a guardian and responsible for his subjects; a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for them; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s house and of his children and is responsible for them; a slave is the guardian of his mater’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges. (Al-Bukhari)