Are we turning our backs on our children?
By Indra Kumari Nadchatram
KUALA LUMPUR, 3 October 2007 – Twenty years ago, an eight-year old girl from Kuala Lumpur was found dead with a piece of wood embedded with nails forced into her vagina, and a piece of wire around her neck. Her name was Ang May Hong.
A decade or so later, Audrey Melissa Bathinathan, a secondary school student was found brutally raped and murdered in an underpass near the school where she studied.
And only a month ago, the mutilated body of another eight-year old was found in a bag in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Nurin Jazlin Jazimin had been kidnapped and raped.
Their silent screams, along with many others in the years in-between, was painfully deafening and captured headlines across the country. Malaysians were stunned into disbelief at the level of cruelty and torture that was perpetrated against these helpless children and teens.
Tragically for all of us, the stories of these young girls are true. It is also true that their stories are repeated over and over again, in Malaysia and around the world.
Apathy in our communities?
While we are shocked at the atrocity of these crimes, what is even more unforgivable is that these crimes were committed in the very communities that May Hong, Audrey Melissa and Nurin Jazlin lived and grew up in. Spaces they and their families in all likely hood felt safe about.
May Hong was on her way to buy breakfast for her brother; Audrey Melissa was on her way to school taking her usual route. And Nurin Jazlin was visiting the nightmarket close to her home. Their actions were not out of the ordinary. The brutal crimes perpetrated against them were. But most atrocious of all is our apathy and silence that allows these crimes to take place, time and again.
In an ideal world that we all strive for, the community is both a source of protection and solidarity for children and young people. Traditionally, communities acted as an extended family where adults band together to nurture children: to guide them; to support them and to keep them safe from harm.
Weakening of community cohesion
Communities however are not infallible. Stresses such as poverty, rapid urbanisation, unemployment and disparity can contribute to drug abuse and crime, weakening the social and community cohesion in today’s world. The ultimate losers unfortunately are children and teens who become more exposed to violence than ever.
According to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Report on Violence Against Children, launched in 2006, “the nature of a community’s physical fabric, its density of settlement and layout, and the availability of services and amenities supportive of family well-being, have an important bearing on social relationships within the community and on whether or not children become prey to violence.”
Regrettably with urbanisation, communities get smaller, and its members less interested in the affairs of others. As more of us turn our backs on each other, we also open our doors wide and invite violent crimes against our most vulnerable. Being small, children, and especially girls, become the easiest targets to sate perversion, anger, frustration and disenfranchisement.
May Hong, Audrey Melissa and Nurin Jazlin may have resisted, they may have fought back, and they may have screamed. Their pleas for help however went unnoticed and unheard, until too late. Society has a role to play to prevent violence. After injury or death, our outrage is arguably tokenistic.
The challenge of ending all forms of violence against children requires a multidisciplinary approach combining strong responsive and preventive strategies which focus on the four “Ps”: Protection of children, Prevention of violence, Prosecution of criminals and Participation of children. It essentially requires our undivided determination and commitment.
Enacting and enforcing laws are critical to creating a protective framework for children. Equally, the building of child-friendly communities by supporting the delivery of basic infrastructure and services such as improved street lighting; and by offering communities help to build or rebuild positive group values and neighbourhood solidarity, is a promising remedy. Religious leaders in particular, have a particularly influential role to play in instigating changes and reforms, especially in terms of highlighting values of respecting children and the importance of upholding their rights.
At the same time, providing children and young people with life-skills based education in schools and at home can help them make informed decisions to protect themselves from situations that will place them at risk of violence.
However all of this will come to naught, if we the public, don’t play our own respective roles to protect children from harm. Can we afford to continue turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the possible risks children and teens face in their communities?
No compromise to ending violence
UNICEF believes there can be no compromise in challenging violence against children and young people – whether at home, in schools or in the community they live in. Children’s uniqueness – their human potential, their initial fragility and vulnerability, their dependence on adults for their growth and development – make an unassailable case for more, not less, investment in prevention and protection from violence.
This month marks the first Anniversary of the launch of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Report on Violence Against Children. Observing this anniversary with special events is pointless if such activities are not accompanied with a promise from each one of us that we will do all that we can to end violence against children.
For May Hong, Audrey Melissa and Nurin Jazlin and all the other children and teens who have suffered violence; who have died, who suffer disability, who suffer in fear because of violence in their communities, for all these children and millions more, let us not let them die in vain nor suffer in silence any more.
Say No to Violence Against Children
The Protective Environment
Factsheets: Violence in the community