Who do we blame for child abuse?


We need to accept that not every one on the planet wishes to marry the person he or she loves. Some people could indeed be better off remaining single or being in a union without children. However, our society practically forces every couple in a sexual relationship to enter into the institution of marriage. 

The problem goes deeper than merely the morals of the perpetrators.

Tamil Selvan Ramis, FMT

Since the early 1980s, when the phenomenon of child abuse started to become a matter of public discourse, our views on its causes and remedies have often been misdirected by sensationalised media coverage highlighting the suffering of the victims and implicitly condemning the perpetrators as inhuman or even diabolical.

Our typical initial reaction to such news and commentary is shock and disgust. This is often followed by a sense of relief that neither us nor anyone close to us is so bad that we would ever descend to such beastly behaviour.

Not many of us will carry our reflections further to consider the possibility that the press, consciously or not, is giving us a skewed view of the issue in its failure to consider the socio-economic contexts in which the abuses occur.

There is no denying that the number of child abuse cases in Malaysia is skyrocketing. According to the Social Welfare Department, there were 1,242 reported cases in 2002. This number increased to 1,999 in 2006 and 3,047 in 2010. That is an increase of about 145% in less than 10 years.

In a recent case, a Kuala Terengganu couple were sentenced to long prison terms for abusing three children from the woman’s previous marriage. Their abusive acts included: tying a seven-year-old victim to a chair before splashing him with hot water, burning his body with a cigarette and shoving a fishing rod into his anus; hitting a five-year-old victim in his groin with a broom; and burning the ears and knees of a 30-month-old victim with a cigarette. What a cruel couple, right?

Child abuse is too complex an issue to be dismissed as a mere instance of mindless cruelty. Various cultural, economic and ethical factors come into play, and it is essential to examine these to find effective and holistic solutions.

Neglect, which is the failure to provide for the child’s basic needs, is the most common form of child abuse in Malaysia, followed by physical abuse and sexual abuse. Contrary to popular perception, most child abusers are not strangers to their victims. They could be their parents, other immediate family members, more distant relatives, or foster parents.

Abuse can occur in families that face prolonged financial problems. People who live in poverty are prone to psychological stress, which can provoke anger. This anger is sometimes directed at children, usually because they are physically weaker than the adult abusers.

Here is an excerpt, edited for clarity, from an interview conducted with a reported abuser by a group of Malaysian researchers:

“I’m a widow, a single mother. I have no one to depend on. I have a food stall in front of a school. We five depend solely on the income from the stall.

“He [the abused child] asked for an allowance. I don’t have enough money to give him a regular allowance. Suddenly, I heard that he had been stealing in school. What kind of mother would not get angry?”

Lacking equity

Unless we can conclude that all poor people are losers in both the material and psychological senses, we need to acknowledge that our inequitable capitalistic society is at least partly to blame.

In such a society, the stress experienced by the less fortunate becomes more acute and more likely to lead to abusive behaviour.

Frequently enough, our religious leaders assert that neglect of religious obligations in daily life is one of the main reasons for the rising rate of child abuse in the country. However, people who abuse children might not necessarily lack religion, but equity.

Read more at: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2013/08/06/who-do-we-blame-for-child-abuse/