Improve access to justice for child victims

thestarexculsivethestarexculsivePETALING JAYA: The justice system needs to be more accessible to child victims in sexual abuse cases, says the Children’s Commissioner to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Dr Farah Nini Dusuki.

She said that efforts had been made to improve the reporting of such cases for children, especially through cyber awareness programmes in schools, hotlines and helplines, hiring of more child protection officers as well as amendments to the child laws.

“But improvements should be made in the legal handling of such cases. This includes child-friendly reporting mechanisms, safeguarding the identity of the child and offering legal advice to the victims and their guardians,” said Fara Nini.

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She also said greater emphasis must be placed on the importance of prompt reporting, as emphasised by existing legislation like Section 19 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, which makes it an offence for anyone who knows about sexual abuse against a child to fail to report it to the police.


“This is not being enforced and people don’t know about it. For example, if you suspect your husband of molesting a child, you have a legal duty under the law,” she said.

She added that she was certain that more than 50% of parents in the country are not aware it is mandatory to report sexual abuse against a child.

“Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department) is keen to enforce this law as the purpose of these laws is to bring cases to the authorities because child abuse particularly sexual abuse can be linked to the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” she told The Star in an interview.

This was because a majority of the cases seen were about 20% on the surface but there are still many undisclosed ones, she added.As such she pointed out that a multifaceted approach was needed in dealing with children who are victims of sexual abuse, starting with changes to societal, legal and system-wide scales.

She said Malaysia does have comprehensive legislation governing child protection as it provides the fundamental measures of prevention, protection and rehabilitation.

“The challenge lies in the effective implementation of these provisions,” she said.

“This is especially crucial in the age of digital technology with increasing concerns on online child sexual exploitation and abuse.”

Initiatives need to be undertaken to ensure digital safety and to protect children from such harms, she added.

Farah Nini said comprehensive sex education among children was needed to foster an understanding of personal safety and risks.

Professionals working with children such as teachers and healthcare providers should be trained to identify signs of sexual abuse and know what steps to take if abuse is suspected, she said.“All sexuality and reproductive health education should emphasise consent, safety, and developing positive relationships and values.

“Lessons on identifying and reporting inappropriate touching or abuse are very valuable for empowering children and deterring predators. Parents should be consulted to ensure sex ed programmes align with family values,” she said.

Farah Nini added that services to support child victims, such as counselling, should be readily available and should cover an array of needs, including legal assistance during court proceedings.

“When you look into neuroscience findings, MRIs of children who were mistreated show that the size of their brain is smaller compared to a healthy child exposed to a positive environment.

“If a child’s brain is not developed properly, it affects their health causing diseases, health-risk behaviours by perpetuating the cycle of violence or continue being victimised,” she said.