One in 10 Malaysian children sexually abused, usually by those they know: Studies

In 2017, out of the 1,582 rape cases reported to the police, almost 80 per cent involved victims below the age of 18. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - One in 10 children in Malaysia - or about 750,000 - are sexually abused, according to community studies.

In 95 per cent of the cases, their sexual abusers are people known to them. Mostly, the abusers are their fathers or stepfathers.

"In Malaysia, the primary abuser is the father. The second primary abuser is the father and the third primary abuser is also the father, " says Datuk Amar Singh, a consultant paediatrician who has worked with sexually abused children for over three decades.

Citing three local community studies (Amar, 1996; Kamaruddin, 2000; and Choo, 2011) on the incidence of child sexual abuse in Malaysia, Dr Amar said that sexual abuse affects 8 per cent to 26 per cent of children. The accepted average is 10 per cent.

Police statistics on victims and the number of cases reported to the Welfare Department, however, are lower.

In 2017, out of the 1,582 rape cases reported to the police, almost 80 per cent (1,257) involved victims (all women and girls) below the age of 18.

A total of 1,290 molestation cases were recorded involving children under the age of 18, of which about 3 per cent were boys.

A total of 269 incest cases were reported, of which 66 per cent involved children under the age of 15.

Meanwhile, a booklet published by the Penang state government's Women, Family Development Committee found that one in three girls and one in six boys experience sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18.

Globally, it is estimated that only about 10 per cent of cases are reported. Child sexual abuse is a grossly under-reported crime; in fact, the most under-reported of crimes.

Most sexually abused children are too afraid to speak up about the abuse.

"Sexual abuse is far worse (than rape) because, often, it happens in the child's own home by people they love and who say love them."

"I have worked with someone who was sexually abused for 15 years before she had the courage to run away," says Dr Amar.

On paper, Malaysia has laws that safeguard children from sexual violence but the laws are not enforced sufficiently.

"The Child Act 2001 and the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 should be the primary legislation used when dealing with children, as they have been designed to protect children. Unfortunately, they are not being made use of," says Dr Amar.

Under Section 31 of the Child Act, sexual abuse of a child and even causing or permitting a child to be abused is a crime.

Offenders stand to be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years' imprisonment or fined up to RM50,000 (S$16,300) or both.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh says that protecting children from abuse is among the ministry's top priorities, and one measure is to increase the number and quality of child protectors under the Welfare Department.

"We now have more than 200 child protectors nationwide, but for nine million children, we need at least 1,500 child protectors and we hope we will be there soon."

"We have also developed a sex education syllabus for boys to teach them, first of all, about their bodies, and also to respect girls and women."

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