The latest case of a child raped by a bus driver in front of other children and the Penan rape cases has prompted reactionary measures short of another “royal circus” inquiry. Where is our National Children Safety Policy when we clearly need a foundation and framework towards developing long term preventive measures?
The latest case of a child being raped and molested by a bus driver in front of other young passengers is blatantly cruel and heart wrenching (to say the least). After the horrendous incident was exposed by the media, worried parents in my neighborhood resolved to send and fetch their children from school from that day onwards. The level of anxiety and fear that the community is having over the safety of our beloved children is reaching an uncompromising stage.
So are the threats that are coming from the very adults and care-givers that are entrusted with the power and responsibility to ensure their safety and well being. Who can we really trust in the society to handle our children anymore?
Apart from falling victim to abuse, neglect or in severe cases, abduction and trafficking, it is obvious that our children are also at risk of being victims of sexual predators. The realisation that there are pedophiles in our own backyard is deeply sickening. We were also shocked by the Penan rape cases exposed by a Sarawak civil society coalition recently. All of the girls were raped when they were in their teens, hence qualifying them for treatment and protection that are applicable to their status as children, but sad to say, that never materialised.
The government and the state agencies are responding to these heinous crimes in their classic style as well; First – blame the victim for various reasons stemming from bad characters, morale values or cultural excuses as in the case of the Penan rapes. Second – suggest reactionary light speed review of the existing laws or measures to address these problems. What is wrong with the second approach, we might ponder? Isn’t that in line with our national vision to strive for efficiency and speedy public service?
Yesterday, in response to the rape by the bus driver incident, Dato’ Shahrizat Abdul Jalil suggested that school buses should have co-drivers or conductors. The suggestion, in my opinion, is reasonable, considering that it is important for our children to be accompanied by trustworthy adults or guardians while they are in public space. But, this is simply an ad-hoc response to the incident with lack of depth and vision for a long term prevention strategy.
Our National Children Safety Policy introduced in 2007, has clearly include in its framework, the need to ensure that all adults responsible for the safety children, and that includes transport service providers such as bus or taxi drivers to be equipped with adequate understanding of children’s rights and safety needs. The target of the Strategic Plan is to have at least 5% of the related stakeholders to be aware and understand issues relevant to children by the end of 2010.
What is the progress of the strategic plan so far? Therefore, despite the positive suggestion to recruit co-drivers and bus conductors, the Plan indicates further need to ensure that those recruited to work or provide services for children are exposed to children’s rights and to be held accountable to a specific children safety policy or code of conduct.
But, sad to say that over the years, rather than putting more efforts to strengthen and translate our existing National Policy into actions, we would wait relentlessly for a tragedy to happen so that our conscience is triggered and we could offer a reaction, rather than act strategically on preventing it from happening.
The National Children Safety Policy of course leaves many rooms for improvement and enhancement but the government need not start from scratch. Since we ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995, our engagement with and commitment to human rights standards offer various ways and viable frameworks for us to improve our country’s policies and domestic laws on children.
In the CRC Committee’s “Concluding Comments” to Malaysia’s Initial Report in 2007, the Committee stressed the importance of extending the task to protect and uphold child’s safety and well being from merely parents to other relevant stakeholders including national human rights institutions, authorities such as the police force and law practitioners. This does not mean shifting the focal point worthy of blame from parents to the rest of the community. This means sharing the responsibility with every member of the society to ensure children safety, from top level policymakers to grassroots initiatives through a comprehensive framework.
We need more than just co-drivers and conductors or stringent laws to punish the perpetrators; we need a standard operating procedures and code of conduct to prevent child sexual abuse and violence in our homes, neighborhood, school and the public space; we need child-friendly procedures and focal points in the police stations and courts that could handle victimised children judiciously and I know this is hard to be accepted by many, but we need to have sex education in school, not because we want to encourage our children to subscribe to sexual promiscuity from an early age but so that they are able to identify sexual wrongdoings and threats, be it from strangers or people they trust.
It is timely now that we recognise our commitment to the highest human rights standards where our children are concerned, as more than just an international diplomatic move but rather, an on-going effort to reform the ways we protect our children.
LB: Shazeera is a law graduate with no intention whatsoever to be a lawyer. She was previously a Chevening Fellow with Glasgow University, in studying government relations with civil society. She is currently one of the Directors of Pagaralam Sdn Bhd, a consultancy firm dedicated to promoting good governance in social development and human rights. She will also be pursuing her Master in Applied Human Rights in University of York, UK very soon. Her interests, among others, are human rights, cultural relativism and it’s implications on public policies. Catch more of her take on politics, pop culture and parenthood at uspeopleknow.wordpress.com.
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