PETALING JAYA: One would expect parents to have their children's welfare closest to their heart and yet, they made up over 55% of the child abusers reported in the last three years.
According to the profile of perpetrators made available to The Star, members of the immediate family (parents, step-parents, siblings and relatives) made up over 71% of child abusers from 2000 until last year.
Last year, abusers who were complete strangers totalled 15.78% while caregivers, neighbours, employers, teachers, parents' lovers and family friends added up to 10.86%.
The National Unity and Social Development Ministry compiled the statistics based on six categories of abuse – abandonment, neglect, physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, and others.
Neglect and physical and sexual abuse have been the three most common forms in the past three years, at an average of 83%, while the least common form of abuse was emotional or psychological.
While physical and sexual abuse cases fell from 362 to 287 and from 258 to 251 respectively between 2000 and 2001, cases of neglect jumped from 183 in 2000 to 303 in 2001 and to 357 last year.
The ratio of male to female children who were sexually abused was one to 10 in 2000, one to nine in 2001 and one to 14 last year.
However, more male children were neglected and physically abused but the difference was not much.
“From our data, we have seen that during the economic downturn, there was a lot more of violence in the family; husbands bashing their wives and children getting assaulted,” said minister Datuk Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman in an interview.
“With factories closing down and people losing jobs, there is increased stress.
“The family institution has become fragile and more vulnerable over the years. This is a great concern for people in grassroots constituencies.
“We can tackle this by looking at the family institution or community system and it is the latter that comes under the purview of my ministry because we deal with social development.”
Asked whether the Women and Family Development Ministry was aware that family and relatives made up the greatest number of child abusers, Dr Siti Zaharah said her officers had passed on the information during their regular meetings.
“For our part, we are targeting children and their social development in the neighbourhood, in the school, in the care of babysitters, in the rural areas and others.
“In terms of child protection, the core thrust of prevention lies in generating greater awareness of the vital importance of safeguarding the best interests of the child.
“At the same time, we are trying to make children better aware of their rights and responsibilities.
“We have also devised training programmes with non-governmental organisations to train parents, teachers and community leaders to explain sexual abuse to children and to teach them to say no and tell someone about the abuse,” she said.
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