Monday, August 11, 2008

The search must go on


Come Aug 20, it will be a year since Nurin Jazlin Jazimin was abducted and brutally murdered. The perpetrator has yet to be caught, and there are other cases of missing children that still remain unsolved.

SOMEONE knocked on my door and asked, 'Excuse me sir, have you seen this missing girl?' “ Jazimin Abdul Jalil wryly recalls the way police rallied to find his daughter Nurin Jazlin Jazimin when she first went missing.

They were conducting a house-to-house search for her, he says, and the cop at the door was earnest.

“I was so annoyed that I decided to play along. I said, ‘I don’t know, let me see the picture.' He showed me the picture and sure enough, it was my daughter. I told him, ‘Encik, ini anak saya. How were you briefed?’ He got very embarrassed and quickly apologised. He then said that he was new!”

Jazimin sighs.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the story did not end well. His little girl's naked body was found stuffed in a sports bag near a shoplot in Petaling Utama a month later. She had been cruelly assaulted. Now, almost a year after her abduction, her case remains unsolved.

Jazimin, a former taxi driver, shares that he was close to giving up on the police.

“We have not heard from the police for a while now. They have stopped updating us about any progress in the case. It sometimes seems like the case is closed and police are not bothered about justice,” he says stoically.

In April, the police assured that Nurin Jazlin's case, as well as that of Sharlinie Mohd Nashar, will not be closed even if it takes more than 20 years to solve.

CID chief Datuk Mohd Bakri Zinin even assured that he was personally handling these cases.

Recently, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Noriah Kasnon told Parliament that about 242 children were reported missing between January and March, out of which only half have been found. Many more children who disappeared remain missing.

Says one parent, Tan Teng Hok, “Police say their crime-solving rate is about 40%, higher than the Interpol benchmark of 20%, but what I can see is that it has failed to resolve a large proportion of crimes, especially for cases of missing children and sexually-assaulted children. Nurin's case is still unsolved. Even with posters all around, Sharlinie has yet to be found.”

Tan says that the police rarely patrol round his housing area in Petaling Jaya.

“The only time you really see the police is when there are roadblocks or demonstrations,” he says.

Even at the Wangsa Maju pasar malam where Nurin Jazlin was abducted, police surveillance has dwindled.

Neighbourhood watch member Ramli Abdullah, 56, says police now patrol the pasar malam area only once a month.

“But we watch it every week and we also patrol the area every week. The good thing is parents are more vigilant and many do not allow their children to roam alone at the pasar malam,” he says.

Jazimin naturally is very frustrated with the lack of progress in his daughter's case.

“To a certain extent, I can understand why the police have not caught my daughter's murderer but there are times when I get very frustrated and lose confidence in the police investigation,” he says.

Force needs help

The crux of the problem is that the police are overworked and not motivated, says a former top cop who declines to be named.

Retired for a few years now, he shares that morale in the police force has declined steadily over the years.

“Many don't carry out proper investigations because they are overworked due to the personnel shortage in the force. Sometimes they get as many as 11 cases in one go,” he says.

The retired cop adds that police training in the country needs to be improved.

“One missing ingredient is people skills, which is important when we are dealing with victims and their families. For example, you need to update the victim's family of the progress from time to time,” he says.

Many police officers also do not have the skills to deal with witnesses, especially child witnesses, he says, and this can hamper the investigation.

On investigative skills, he shares that the police are trained in various techniques; the problem is their attitude in the investigation process.

“As a result they are not vigilant when they are sent to the crime scene and will miss on clues and evidence,” he says, adding that there is also a shortage of recruits who can think critically.

However, in cases of missing children, he says, sometimes the police cannot be blamed as the chances of solving the cases are lower because usually no evidence is left behind at the crime scene. Police thus have to rely on leads from witnesses and most of the time, uncooperative members of the public hamper their investigations, he adds.

As for sexual assault and murder cases like the Nurin Jazlin case, he says it proves how vital the DNA databank is if the police are to solve them.

“Police found the DNA of Nurin’s perpetrator but because we don't have a DNA databank, there is no way for us to find a match. Unless the police get new leads or suspects, it will be difficult to solve the case,” he says.

Protect And Save The Children Association director Madeleine Yong believes that the police are not to be solely blamed for the unsolved cases of crime against children, especially missing children.

“There isn't one person at fault; everyone is responsible. All those working within the system need to understand their role, and how it connects to the wider process. There needs to be better collaboration between the different agencies,” she says.

Yong cites the Nurin alert system as an example of a good inter-agency collaboration.

“The Nurin alert is a whole systemic effort. It's not just about putting up posters and sending out flyers. It was about training people on the issue and galvanising a whole network of agencies from the police, the judiciary, social welfare people to the Interpol,” she says.

Prevention is more effective, and for that the community needs to play a role too, she adds. Shahida Musa, executive secretary of the Malaysian Association for the Protection of Children (MAPC), concurs, adding that the crux of the issue is parents’ attitude towards the safety of their children.

“You see this area (where the MAPC office is located), we are supposed to have the Kampung Baru molester on the loose. Every day I look out the window and can see young children walking on their own. You tell me whose fault is it?”

Shahida accepts that there are various factors involved, particularly urban poverty, but parental negligence cannot be disregarded, she opines.

She is right, as a survey by this reporter around the so-called “hot areas” such as Kampung Baru and Taman Medan shows that parents are still allowing their young children to roam around their neighbourhood without supervision.

Many agree that it is time for stakeholders to address the weaknesses or failures of the system for the sake of the children.

Shahida opines that most government agencies dealing with children are in dire need of trained personnel.

“Take the Welfare Department, for example. The ratio of their staff is disproportionate to the number of people in their area and they will be responsible for everything from missing children and child abuse cases to fire, flood and other natural disasters,” she says.

”The more honest we are and the more we consolidate our resources and energy, the better we are able to protect our children,” Yong says.

- Sunday Star

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