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Uniting for Malaysia's children

Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA  •  Wednesday, 6 October 2010

UNICEF Representative to Malaysia
Special Representative to Brunei

A child is being abused. We read about it in the paper and are horrified. How can anyone do such a thing to a small child?! How can this happen in our society?

Sometimes we may actually get closer and may see or hear something that could well be abuse. But is it really? Quickly the moment has passed. And what can we do about it anyway? 

Someone may suddenly suspect that things are not the way they should be with the neighbour’s children. But did you really interpret what you saw correctly? And who wants to meddle in other families’ affairs and perhaps ruin the relationship with the neighbour in the process? We look the other away. Convincing ourselves that what we saw was imagination. And what could we do anyway if it wasn’t? Trying to intervene may quickly give us really big problems.

For a child, abused by those who were there to care for you and protect you, the world is a lonely and frightening place. Adults become threats. There is no one to talk to. Who would believe you? And perhaps it is all your own fault anyway.

Every child has the right to grow up in a safe and protected environment, and protecting children from all forms of abuse – be it physical, emotional, sexual or neglect – is the responsibility of every individual in every society. Malaysians care about children and are concerned about their wellbeing. The increasing numbers of newspaper stories about child abuse in Malaysia has caused concern and consternation. We can see this in letters to the media and in conversations on the internet.

The introduction of legislation, such as the Child Act is also a reflection of Malaysia’s commitment to the protection of its children. But statistics indicate the need to seek new ways of tackling child abuse in Malaysia. According to 2008 statistics from the Department of Social Welfare, there are on average 7 children abused in different ways every day in this country. But these figures are based on reported incidents, often only reported when it is already too late.

There are probably many, many more victims of child abuse who suffer their fate in silence because they are too afraid or too young and vulnerable to be heard or noticed. Compounding this secrecy is the fact that the ones who harm them are often the very people they are closest to – their parents or stepparents, grandparents, siblings, other relatives and caretakers. Worse still, these children are usually abused in what should be their safest environment – their home and the communities they live in.

We all live in these communities where terrible things happen. If we want to change anything for these children and families we need a mind shift. We need to acknowledge that children are being abused in all cultural groups and economic strata. We need to understand what abuse is and why it happens, how we can be supportive before it goes too far and how we can help and support each other so it never happens. As adults, we must take a stand for all children and create an environment where it is unacceptable to abuse them. We must make the well being of children a responsibility for all of us, for the whole community.

In UNICEF we believe that child abuse can be stopped if people are empowered with the right knowledge, with information about what you as an individual or group can do about it, and with the right community support. This is why we today are launching the Get On Board campaign – to make knowledge available to those who want to know more about abuse and make information available about how people can take responsibility and act and who they can go to for help – all this on one website, the website, a resource centre for everyone.

We also recognise that statistics alone tell us very little about the extent of the phenomenon, the severity of abuse over time or why it is occurring. This is why the campaign is calling for public support for action to better understand the extent of child abuse in Malaysia and the reasons behind it. This understanding will make it possible for evidence based Government interventions to put in place the necessary support structures and legislation that may be lacking.

Stopping child abuse is a huge undertaking in any society. We are extremely proud and grateful to have the support of some well known and respected Campaign Advocates – Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Afdlin Shauki and Ruth Liew – who are committed to get On Board and help rally members of the public to join in this journey and empower themselves with the right knowledge and tools from the website. We hope other celebrities and public figures will also come on board this campaign bus for children, the first of its kind for UNICEF in this region.

We are also extremely happy that one of the first to sign up to this campaign will be the honorable Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Jalil who has promised the full backing of the Ministry for this endeavor. This is important, as it is the combination of popular movement and political will that will be able to move the agenda for these children.

Child abuse occurs in every country, across every culture and community. It happens at all levels of society – in poor homes as well as the affluent, in rural homes and those in urban areas. It does not only happen in homes with low literacy levels but also in those of the educated. It does not matter from which background a child comes, the impact of abuse could devastate any child, anywhere.

A healthy conversation about this issue must be generated, in traditional media as well as among bloggers and social media users. Malaysia’s online community is thriving with rich discussions among friends and family and we believe that positive conversations on this platform can do great things in shaping a new culture where individuals are equipped and ready to stand up for children.

We need to raise public awareness of the devastating effects of child abuse and we are encouraged by the media interest and involvement in this campaign and hope more will join us and help facilitate this change.

We should keep in mind that the consequences of child abuse can be far reaching. In a worst-case scenario, abuse may disrupt a child’s education and he or she may even drop out of school or run away from home.

Without education, and living without proper adult supervision, a young person’s economic potential will certainly be affected and so will the child’s personal safety. Children in situations like these are more likely than others to be exposed to risky lifestyles such as alcohol and drug abuse, criminal behaviour and exposure to HIV. All these are elements that also have a profound impact on society and the path for national development. The direct cost of abuse also includes immediate and long-term medical treatment for the victims and families as well as police interventions and the ensuing legal processes. In short, the costs are high.

While some children show an incredible resilience and go through their ordeals without visible scars, our failure to protect children have more often than not negative effects on the individual’s adult life. Later in life as parents, abused children may themselves exhibit poor parenting skills.

Let us come together and unite against abuse. It is something that will benefit the individual child and family as well as the society at large. It is not a pipe dream but a real possibility, provided every one of us gets involved. Even the smallest contribution and action adds to the positive movement and can make a big difference in a child’s life – even if it’s just a Tweet or a Facebook update.

Before closing, I should not forget to thank a number of those who have already got On Board for Malaysian children, our venue supporter the 1 Utama Shopping Centre that has provided this magnificent venue for the launch, as well as our corporate and media supporters and the celebrities who lend their credibility and fame to this campaign – including obviously our celebrity emcees Asha and Naz.

Thank you so much, and may you have many followers who are ready to subscribe to the rallying call:

Raise your hand and Stop child abuse now!





Get on Board! website

  •  Media Centre

Speeches: Get on Board!

UNICEF Representative, Malaysia


Campaign conclusion: Commitment to protecting children


Campaign launch: Uniting for children

Photos: Get on Board!

Report Child Abuse!

Child Protection: Malaysia

Say No to Violence Against Children

Newsline: Get on Board

15 December 2010:
Collaborating to map out child abuse

15 December 2010:
If children could grow up without the fear of abuse

28 November 2010:
OP-ED: Duty of all to stop child abuse


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