The indispensable role of society in protecting the vulnerable

The protection of children, undoubtedly the most vulnerable group in our society, is both a moral imperative and a reflection of a nation’s values

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The recent statement by the de facto law minister, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, underscores the federal government’s unwavering commitment to enforce laws that target the enablers of sexual abuse involving children.

This is a timely and necessary measure in an era where society is becoming increasingly conscious of the rights and protection of its youngest members.

Azalina’s recent remarks following a pivotal meeting between representatives of several key agencies—including the Attorney General’s Chambers, the judiciary, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Children’s Commissioner—indicate a collaborative effort to strategize on the nationwide enforcement of Section 19 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act.

This is not merely a law on paper; it serves as a beacon of hope for countless innocent lives potentially at risk.

However, Section 19 goes beyond merely prosecuting those who commit these heinous acts. It casts a wider net, making it an offence for anyone aware of sexual abuse against a child to remain silent.

This particular provision magnifies the societal role in child protection. It sends a clear message: inaction and silence are as complicit as the act itself.

The implications of this are vast, indicating a shift in the legal framework that recognizes the collective responsibility we all bear towards safeguarding our young.

Unfortunately, as Azalina noted, public awareness about this critical section remains low.

This is a grievous oversight, for a law, regardless of its stringency, can only be as effective as the public’s knowledge and adherence to it.

This gap in awareness is a clarion call for collective action – from government bodies, NGOs, community leaders, and indeed, every individual.

It’s heartening to note the unity government’s stated commitment towards children’s affairs, especially child protection.

Their firm stance against any party that harms children, either overtly or covertly, is commendable.

However, the onus doesn’t merely lie with the government. We, as a society, must internalize this commitment in our daily lives.

Consider this: often, the perpetrators or enablers of child abuse are individuals known to the child—relatives, teachers, neighbors, or family friends.

This familiarity can lead to an agonizing dilemma for many: to act against someone they know or to turn a blind eye for the sake of maintaining harmony.

Section 19 challenges this dilemma head-on, urging individuals to prioritize the child’s well-being over personal or societal reservations.

The minister’s emphasis on prosecuting those known to child victims such as teachers and neighbors further accentuates the significance of community vigilance.

In the tapestry of a child’s life, teachers play a pivotal role. They are not just educators; they are guardians, mentors, and sometimes, the only refuge a child has outside their home.

Similarly, neighbors, often seen as extended family in many cultures, are the very eyes and ears of a community.

Empowering and making these individuals accountable can create a formidable defense against child abuse.

While the proposed fines of up to RM5,000 for those found guilty under Section 19 might seem like a deterrent, the real cost of silence is infinitely higher.

Every moment of inaction might result in irreversible trauma for a child. This is a cost our society cannot afford.

In conclusion, the government’s commitment to enforcing laws against child abuse enablers is a commendable step. However, laws, in isolation, are mere instruments.

Their efficacy lies in the hands of the society that wields them. It is high time we embraced our collective role as protectors, educators, and advocates for the most vulnerable among us.

The wellbeing of our children is not just a government mandate; it’s a societal pledge, one that we must uphold with unwavering dedication and vigilance. — MalaysiaXpress

Editor’s note: This article is written by Gino Wong, Child Rights Activist.

The views expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of malaysiaxpress.com.