(Pic by NTLam @ Flickr)
THE allegation in late 2009 of a sex offender operating a kindergarten is just one of a growing number of reported cases of child abuse, molestation and rape. Police statistics indicate a rise from 2,236 reported cases in 2005 to 5,744 in 2008, an increase of more than 2.5 times in a space of three years.
If that’s not bad enough, these statistics may not tell the full story. “In any country the levels of reporting will not reflect the actual incidence of abuse and violence against children,” says United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative to Malaysia, Youssouf Oomar.
To help better protect children, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry rolled out the cabinet-approved Child Protection Policy (CPP) six months ago in July 2009. But will the CPP effectively prevent child abuse?
Screening and reporting
“The CPP focuses on staff protocols, recruitment and screening; procedures for handling allegations of abuse; communication, [training and monitoring],” said minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in an 11 Dec 2009 press statement.
Nayagam (Courtesy of James
Nayagam)Shelter Homes executive director James Nayagam explains that the CPP deals with a few basic measures such as ensuring kindergartens are secure from outsiders. It also ensures that buildings are child-safe and friendly, and that staff are screened.
“Anyone who works with children has to be vetted,” Nayagam says. “Their criminal background has to be checked and verified. Rules for interacting with children must also be in place.
“For example, photographs cannot be taken without consent, records must be kept private and confidential; all these things are now part of the policy.”
Still, how successful will the policy be?
PH Wong, a long-time child advocate and Childline Malaysia project director, says it will depend on how the policy is implemented.
“There needs to be a lot more involvement with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which work with children in different situations; for example, orang asli children, sick children in hospitals, and the urban poor.”
Youssouf Youssouf confirms that it is currently not compulsory for agencies and NGOs to have a child protection policy. Nevertheless, he says NGOs and child centres should self-regulate and formulate their own policies on recruitment, staff codes of conduct, and internal reporting mechanisms. For example, Shelter Homes has a child protection policy in place that meets ISO standards and is closely monitored by the board of directors to ensure it is implemented.
Nayagam says any incident in any of Shelter’s homes must be recorded in a log book and followed up on. “If there is any violation of the policy, workers will be taken to task. I would also be taken to task by the board,” he explains.
“Every staff member has gone through the policy procedure, read it, signed it and agreed to it. We would not hesitate to terminate people for not following the policy,” he adds.
Nayagam says for the government’s policy to be effective, there must be a tracking system in place to ensure adherence. “Where is that tracking system? Are people following the policy? I don’t know, I just don’t know.
“The policy should be made compulsory and taken seriously,” Nayagam says. “If you have a beautiful DVD player or Ferrari but keep it covered and unused, what good is it?”
Shahrizat (Pic courtesy of theSun)The Nut Graph‘s several attempts to contact the Women, Family and Community Development (WFCD) Ministry for information on the policy’s implementation went unanswered.
Notwithstanding the government’s efforts, Wong says a large number of childcare centres and kindergartens are still not registered with the authorities. She says the number of registered centres has almost halved from five years ago. This means that many children are attending unregistered centres.
And even for registered centres, there is no formal accreditation. “We have been pushing for a national quality accreditation system for early childhood centres for more than 10 years, but that has not been implemented yet,” says Wong.
Youssouf says that parents and guardians must play their part and ensure they do not put children in situations where they could be at risk.
“Parents and guardians should be proactive and ask to check the centre’s licence, as well as ask whether it has a formal child protection policy. In addition, [they must also be] aware of changes in children’s behaviour and look out for signs that the children may not be well protected or cared for in the centre,” explains Youssouf.
By requesting to see a centre’s child protection policy, he says it would create a demand for such policies. “By boycotting places that are not registered, parents can influence the practices of childcare centres and kindergartens,” he adds.
Youssouf stresses the need for an overall protective environment before children can be adequately protected. “While the policy is a good step forward in institutionalising the country’s child protection response, it is not a magic bullet that will address child abuse in isolation.”
He explains that the community must play its role in addressing violence against children. Additionally, children need to have access to safe channels where they can report violence against themselves or their friends.
(Pic by Ew Chee Guan / Dreamstime) “It is important to first acknowledge that most child abuse, including sexual abuse, occurs within the family home, perpetrated by family members, relatives, and those known by the child. Yet this form of abuse is most difficult to address because it is shrouded in denial and shame,” he says.
To address child protection issues, Wong is involved in setting up Childline Malaysia, a free phone helpline focused on helping children. “Once we know their problems and hear from children, we can design the programmes to protect them,” she says.
In the meantime, Nayagam says there must be commitment and professionalism in the government policy’s implementation. “It cannot be compromised. We’re not dealing with commodities but with children’s lives.”