We have failed to protect children, says Wan Azizah

Gan Pei Ling

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says the system has failed to protect children from conditions like malnutrition to sexual abuse. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, June 14, 2018.

MALAYSIAN laws and society as a whole have failed to protect children, whether from malnutrition or abuse, said Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, adding that making the country a safer place for minors will be one of her top priorities.

But the 65-year-old, who is also women, family and community development minister, admits she has her work cut out for her.

Dr Wan Azizah, who has nine grandchildren, said she has been particularly affected by what she sees as a lack of policies to protect children from sexual abuse.

“You have to get alarm bells going. This is an important issue,” she told The Malaysian Insight in an interview at her office in Putrajaya.

“These are things considered taboo to be discussed, yet, we must get this out in the open.

“If you see tell-tale signs, you cannot turn a blind eye. That message must get across strongly – save the children,” she said.

Dr Wan Azizah said she was shocked when she was shown a study by Protect and Save the Children, which found a high prevalence of sexual abuse cases amongst 20,000 children, and that offenders were often adults close to the children, including family members and religious teachers.

The study, which was classified under the Official Secrets Act by the previous Barisan Nasional government, was conducted more than 10 years ago.

“I was alarmed. The ministry is (re)looking this. We have to get to the bottom of this. I have been told it’s under police investigation.

“The victims would have grown up by now. We need an update,” said Dr Wan Azizah, who is working at getting the study declassified.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was alarmed to find a study on child sexual abuse to be classified under the Official Secrets Act and is working to declassify the document. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, June 14, 2018.

She hopes to implement laws holding caregivers and guardians responsible for the wellbeing of those under their charge.

“Children are our future. We are supposed to protect them.

“This is the failure of our system. It’s a grave injustice. It has become a stigma that people just sweep under the carpet,” she said.

Apart from addressing child welfare issues, Dr Wan Azizah said she is looking at tackling various forms of gender discrimination and violence, and hopes to put into place policies that will empower and enable women to take on leadership positions.

“Our support system is not good enough (to encourage women to join politics),” said the PKR president.

She recounted that her daughter Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and other female lawmakers had to request for a breastfeeding room in the Parliament complex.

“When she was just elected to Parliament (in 2009), she was breastfeeding but there was no such facility in Parliament,” said Dr Wan Azizah.

Nurul Izzah was then Lembah Pantai MP. The PKR vice-president defeated Umno Wanita head Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in 2008.

Dr Wan Azizah acknowledges that it’s not just politics that appears off-limits to most women, especially mothers, and said she is working on providing incentives to employers to provide childcare facilities, either at work or near the workplace, which was one of the promises Pakatan Harapan listed in its manifesto.

She hopes to provide the support needed for most working mothers who struggle to manage the demands of their professional careers and domestic responsibilities as a mother and wife, and understands full well the limitations of the current situation.

“The horror stories you hear about nurseries,” she said, with a shudder. – June 14, 2018.

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