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Torn and traumatised

When a marriage crumbles, children inevitably become victims and end up having academic, emotional and social problems.

WHEN parents get divorced, it’s often the child who suffers.

And, teachers are harassed – often torn between the warring parents.

“If one party takes the child out of the school, the other will be upset and “go after” the class teacher and administrators for allowing this to happen. The child bears the brunt of the fight which spills over to issues involving the child’s education,” National Union of The Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan shares.

In some cases, usually in primary schools, the child will be transferred to another school without the knowledge of the other party, he adds.

In secondary schools, students either try hard to cope with the embarrassment, or just stay away from school.

Teachers, Tan adds, undergo basic psychology training to pick up on a student’s sudden change in behaviour. This is usually due to broken families.

The changes may be because of illness, substance abuse, or battery and assault.

“If class teachers see something amiss, like a drastic drop in academic performance, absenteeism or withdrawal, they’ll refer the student to a counsellor.”

The counsellor-to-student radio is 1:350 in primary schools and 1:500, in secondary schools.

Noor Azimah says current laws must be amended to include parental alienation as a form of child abuse. 

“Counsellors are professionals. They are there to assist students with problems associated with growing up,” he says, adding that if the student population in primary schools is below 350, there will be no counsellor stationed at the school. That, he says, is worrying.

The Sunday Star last week highlighted how in emotional divorces or custody battles, both sides tend to speak untruths about each other, goading the children to hate the other parent. The law, however, is silent on such situations of parental alienation.

The issue came to light on July 29, after Wanita MCA chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie highlighted the plight of Malaysians Cheng Chau Yang and her eight-year-old son. Cheng and her son are trapped in China after the court in Shanghai imposed a travel ban on them following a request by her ex-husband, a Chinese national.

In Malaysia, students are protected by the Child Act, but schools provide counselling, development, prevention, rehabilitation and intervention programmes, to help them cope, says an Education Ministry spokesman.

“The class teacher or subject teacher, peer or teacher counsellor, usually picks up on the behavioural changes. The student is then referred to a teacher, teacher counsellor or school counsellor, for moral support and emotional management,” the spokesman adds.

The number of counsellors in a school will depend on the student population.

The role of counsellors is to improve student behaviour and attendance, facilitate student achievement and help them develop socially, he says stating that the ministry’s stand is clear on the matter.

School and teachers counsellors, having had some exposure in dealing with cases from broken homes during their varsity years, are able to help and deal with their charges should they come from such families.

However in extreme situations, they can only be resolved by the experts.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim hopes that school counsellors can ease pupils’ emotional trauma by providing a listening ear.

Describing those who commit parental alienation as selfish, she says such actions confuse the child. The long-term effects may even go unnoticed by the insensitive parents.

“Parents must accept that to have children, they must to be objective and responsible. The child must be prioritised.

“In most cases, custody battles or divorce cases are kept private by families for obvious reasons like shame, needing time to come to terms with the situation, or to protect the child.

“But where the situation is made known to teachers, school counsellors should also be kept in the loop,” Noor Azimah says.

She suggests that in such cases, the school counsellors schedule one-on-one sessions with the child over a period of time where notes are taken, records are kept, and progress is measured and monitored.

PAGE wants existing laws to be amended to include parental alienation as a form of child abuse.

“Children are not play things to fight over. With the law in place, parents will be more careful and proper in their actions,” adds Noor Azimah.

The bond between parent and child, says Association Against Parental Alienation Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (Pemalik) president R. Ravishanker, must be protected.

A child’s world is both the father and mother. So, when this shatters, the child is often manipulated to become one parent’s partner in crime, and taught to hate the other.

“Such trauma never goes away.”

While acknowledging that in some schools, parental alienation has caused a drop in academic performance, and disciplinary problems among good students, the ministry spokesman says that students who are mature and can manage their emotions, are usually able to accept their parents breaking up.

A “perfect family” with both father and mother, isn’t a guarantee that the student will be successful academically, he adds.

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