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Do parents in Malaysia know about Child Act 2001?

Do parents in Malaysia know about Child Act 2001?
With parents having the primary responsibility of raising and ensuring the safety of their child, are Malaysian parents aware and have knowledge of the existing Child Act?
KUALA LUMPUR: Cases of child abuse and neglect in Malaysia have become a great concern for the government and the people especially.

On Wednesday, the father of a seven-year-old malnourished girl who was left in captive and abused in an apartment near Sungai Dua in Butterworth pleaded not guilty in the Magistrate’s Court there.

He was charged under Section 31(1)(a) of the Child Act 2001 which provides for a maximum fine of RM20,000 or a jail term of up to 10 years, or both, upon conviction.

With this plight following a long list of other child abuse cases in recent years, the government is looking towards drawing up a new Act which emphasises more on addressing parental neglect of children to replace the current Child Act 2001.

Speaking at an event on Jan 18, Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim said with the current Child Act 2001 needing over 70 percent of amendments to include new areas of focus, they might as well draw up a new Act altogether.

She said the new Act would impose a heavier penalty on parents found guilty of neglecting their children, and hopefully, would serve as a lesson to caregivers before doing anything that would jeopardise the children.

Naturally, parents have the primary responsibility of raising and ensuring the safety of their children, but are Malaysian parents fully aware of the government policies surrounding child care and the rights that their children have?

For Che Hasnadi Che Hassan, he said although he is not too familiar with clauses under the Child Act, he understands that the purpose of the legislation was to protect the well-being of children.
He said parents found guilty of abusing or neglecting their children should serve a firm sentence and the government should also enforce it loudly, to create better awareness.

"The neglect or abuse of children, especially those which leads to death, needs to be dealt with similarly to second class murder, and the punishment should reflect accordingly," said the father-of-two, who is the chief operating officer of Amona Group, a Malaysian conglomerate of property development and construction.

For Lawrence Jeyaraj, a 45-year-old father-of-five, he said although he too believed that awareness is key in preventing child abuse, heavier punishment on abusers won't necessarily solve this social problem, especially in Malaysia.

"Sometimes, the stress that middle-income and lower-income groups feel in their struggle to make ends meet, can be passed onto their children in abusive forms. Awareness is extremely important," said Jeyaraj, the founder and CEO of Eradication Drugs In Lawas.

While admitting that he too, was not well-versed about the Child Act 2001, Lawrence added that this was all the more important why all parties such as community groups, religious organisations, NGOs and the media must play an active role in creating better awareness among the people.

As for Jacinta Johnson-Chan, she said in cases where parents might be financially unstable, have mental health problems or poorly educated, the punishment for this group of parents, if they were found to be negligent, should be approached differently in the new Act.

"I whole-heartedly agree that the full weight of the law should come down on those who intentionally cause harm to their children, but for those who try very hard to bring up a family on whatever little resources they have, perhaps we can offer them counselling and financial assistance until they get back on their feet," she said.

The mother-of-two said although most parents are willing to walk on fire for their children's sake, unfortunately, not all parents exercise their parental instinct and common sense in caring for their offsprings' physical and mental well-being.

Jacinta, who works from home doing creative design and digital media management services to spend more time with her kids, said she too was not fully aware of the nitty-gritties of the Child Act 2001.

However, the parents that Astro AWANI spoke to regarding this matter, agreed that whatever new policy or legislation that the government hoped to implement, would mean nothing if there was no enforcement.

For example, such was the case of two-year-old Siti Soffea Emelda Abdullah, who was abducted and decapitated by the Klang River in broad daylight in May last year.

The mother, Siti Salmy Suib who was homeless and jobless, had been reportedly under investigation for "leaving a child without reasonable supervision" under the Child Act 2001.

But there has been no updates on Siti Salmy, 33, and this case since June last year when the body of the man suspected to have murdered the toddler was found floating in the Klang River several days after the murder.

Much concern was raised about the many other 'Siti Salmys' and 'Siti Soffeahs' of the country, but we have yet to hear a truly proactive measure to curb such social welfare issues.

Meanwhile, Jacinta, Lawrence and Che Hasnadi also agreed that social media plays an important and effective role in disseminating information and was the best tool to get attention, especially from the authorities.

The social media to an extent can be a double-edged knife, but parents need to know and be aware of how to use it wisely, said Jacinta.

"Social media is great for highlighting issues and getting the public to respond. But for cases involving children, I believe we shouldn't release too much personal details and pictures of their parents and the children themselves.

"These information and photos will be online for a long time, so maybe we need to exercise more discretion on what is revealed to the public," she added.

Last Sunday, Rohani had said the new Act would focus more on parental neglect, unlike the Child Act 2001.

She had said the ministry had submitted the draft amendments to the Child Act to the Attorney-General last year but it was returned to the ministry for legal fine-tuning.