Monday, September 1, 2008

Preventing crimes against children

By Sekina Joseph

Some 242 children in Malaysia were reported missing between January and March, out of which only half have been found. So who do we blame -- the parents, police or stakeholders for not addressing the weaknesses and failures of the system?

Consider these cases: Nine-year-old Ang May Hong went missing on Apr. 12, 1987 while buying breakfast with her brother. She was later found dead and sexually abused near her home. On Dec. 10, 1995, Chai Sieu Chi, age 10 disappeared while playing not far from her home and is still missing. On Jan. 12, 1996, seven-year-old Tin Song Sheng was abducted outside his school and as rumors go, is handicapped and forced into begging in Thailand. In October 2000, six-year-old Nushuhada Burak was kidnapped on her way to a shop and later found raped and murdered in a rooftop water tank. On Jan. 28, 2004, Nurul Huda Abdul Ghani age 10 was abducted on her way home from a shop. Her naked body was found near an electric station guardhouse. She was gang raped, sodomized and strangled. On Aug. 20, 2007, Nurin Jazlin Jazimin, went missing on his way to a night market. The eight-year-old was found in a sports bag a month later, sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. On Jan. 9, 2008, Sharlinie Mohd Nasha, disappeared while playing with her eight year old sister at a playground near her house. The five-year-old is still missing. On Mar. 9, 2008, Mohd Asmawi Jalaludin disappeared on his way home from a playground near his house. The 11 year old has not been traced since.

Although the crime-solving rate of the police is about 40 percent higher than the Interpol benchmark of 20 percent, it has failed to solve a large number of cases related to crimes involving missing children.

The problem could be that the police are overworked and not adequately motivated. This might be due to the large number of cases and a shortage of manpower. I was told that sometimes they get around 11 cases at a time.

Police training needs to improve and must emphasize on people skills, which are important when dealing with victims and their families. This is also because they have to deal with child witnesses, which can hamper investigation as far as credibility goes.

While I believe that police are trained in investigative skills techniques, the problem may lie in their attitude towards the investigation process. For example, not being vigilant at the crime scene can result in missing crucial clues and evidence.

However, in cases involving missing minors, the blame cannot be put solely on the police, as the chances of solving such cases are low due to little or no evidence at the crime scene. Also, police have to rely heavily on leads from witnesses and most of the time from uncooperative members of the public. Therefore, prevention is more effective and the community should play a bigger and active role in this respect. Parents should ensure the safety of their children by not allowing them to roam in their neighborhoods, parks, playgrounds and markets without adequate supervision.

Posters of missing children and circulating pamphlets will not help a lot in alerting the public. Instead, creating more public awareness on these issues, training people, and galvanizing the support of various agencies like the police, the judiciary, welfare and social organizations and the Interpol can help prevent such crimes. Everybody in society should assume responsibility, understand their role and connect to the wider process of preventing crimes against children.

Our children are our legacy and a gift from God. As responsible adults and parents we must take good care of them.

We, as humans irrespective of being migrants, illegal entrants, refugees, locals or foreigners, deserve to live in dignity and enjoy inalienable rights recognized and respected by the State and its agents if we are to progress as a cultured, caring and sharing nation.

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