KUALA LUMPUR: Sexual abuse is an issue Malaysia needs to tackle head on to ensure all children are protected, says Johor Permaisuri Raja Zarith Sofiah Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah.
"The issue is not a popular one, but we must tackle it and face it head on," said Raja Zarith at the Tindak Demi Anak Kita (TinDAK) charity fundraising event held here on Thursday (June 21) where she presented a cheque of RM500,000 on behalf of Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar to aid the continuing fight against child sexual abuse in Malaysia.
"Most of us have children of our own, and the older ones – like Tuanku Sultan and myself – have grandchildren too.
"We should try and do our best to protect all Malaysian children," she said in her speech.
Raja Zarith said that it is important to let Malaysian children feel that they have adults who will guide and protect them.
"For too long, the children in our country who have been victims of sexual abuse, have had no one to confide in, and most of the time, considered liars," she said.
"I really do hope that we can work with the relevant government agencies and that they will support this campaign," said Raja Zarith, who is a steadfast advocate of child welfare and safety.
The event was organised by Johor Women's League (Jewel) in collaboration with the Raja Zarith Sofiah Negeri Johor Foundation.
Jewel, which was founded about 10 years ago, has been advocating against child sexual abuse through its TinDAK campaign since 2016.
The campaign aims to protect children from falling victim to sexual abuse through a coordinated awareness and prevention campaign.
The campaign targets primary school-age children, the disabled, and will be implementing a pilot programme for teenagers this year.
TinDAK also plans to conduct awareness training with kindergartens and childcare centres.
Jewel president Liza Alip said that the TinDAK campaign began after the atrocities of one of Britain's worst-ever paedophiles Richard Huckle came to light.
Huckle admitted to 22 charges of rape against children he groomed while posing as a volunteer in Malaysia.
"Ever since then, we in Jewel took a serious step to focus on Child Sex Abuse programme," said Liza.
"We started by working with the Johor Education Department, conducted educational programmes by educating the school counsellors," she said.
The group also conducted several workshops for schools to empower children by teaching them ways to "stay safe, be brave, and tell someone" and to run away from potential trouble.
"We have seen a tremendously positive outcome, whereby more and more children are opening up and many came forward to tell their parents and teachers," said Liza.
"They are no longer afraid, because they know that someone will listen and believe them. And this is ultimately our expectation of this campaign," she said.
TinDAK organising committee chairman Thanam Visvanathan-Suresh said that a total of 22,134 children were sexually abused from 2010 to May 2017, and over half the number were victims of rape.
Thanam said the highest number of rape cases involving children occurred in Johor, with 2,089 cases recorded.
"These are only reported figures as revealed by the Women's Minister in Parliament last year. The actual figure is likely higher as many victims do not lodge police reports," she said.
"Plus, there are so many child sexual abuse reports that do not go to court," said Thanam.
Thanam hopes to engage authorities better to help child sexual abuse victims.
"We want to revive the district child protection team that will have representatives from the police, Welfare Department and non-governmental organisations," she said, adding that the Welfare Department is short-handed.
The fundraiser raised some RM800,000 through donations from Sultan Ibrahim and various companies while an auction held later raised a further RM70,000.
Among the items auctioned off at the event was a Hermes Birkin handbag belonging to Johor princess Tunku Tun Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Ibrahim which she personalised with abstract art.
The handbag was sold for RM35,000.
A new hybrid of Phalaenopsis orchid created by orchid breeder Robert C.S. Ang was also auctioned off during the event. It included exclusive naming rights to the orchid, which was sold at RM25,000.
Guests were also entertained by singers Jaclyn Victor, Dewi Liana and Joe Flizzow, while model Deborah Henry was the master of ceremonies.