The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) heavily condemns the victim-blaming and silencing by Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad of a child survivor who spoke up about the abuse she endured at the hands of her father.
As a minister, his response is unacceptable, and is a violation of our Child Act 2001 and the well-supported Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017 (SOACA) to protect children. It is also an upsetting reflection of the normalisation of the violence women and girls experience at home.
On a recent podcast, the child survivor detailed her father’s physical, mental and sexual abuse towards her and her mother.
In response, the minister publicly called out her action of speaking openly about her experiences. The minister advised that incidents of abuse must be handled privately by reporting them to the police, to avoid shaming her family or damaging her father’s reputation (“lebih [penting] menutup aib sendiri”).
Such statements shame survivors of sexual and gender-based violence into silence, leaving many to feel they are alone in facing the issue. These remarks from someone in a position of power and trust are extremely discouraging for all survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and contribute to its under-reporting and fear of speaking out due to judgement and retaliation.
The Prime Minister’s Department, the office within which the minister operates, was a key driver in ensuring that provisions in the SOACA to protect children were implemented, including by issuing “Special Guidelines for Handling Cases on Sexual Offences Against Children in December 2017”.
Furthermore, the Child Act 2001 makes it compulsory for a family member to inform a social welfare officer if there is a reasonable belief of sexual abuse. Advising the survivor and family members to avoid speaking out about experiences of abuse to protect abusers is a blatant contradiction of the core values of Malaysian laws and government standard operating procedures meant to eradicate sexual violence against children perpetrated by adults, including family members.
These laws are living embodiments of Malaysia’s duties to protect children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malaysia is party to. The government has submitted a report on its compliance with the obligations under the UN convention in Geneva in August 2021, and confirmed its “initiatives to strengthen mechanisms to receive, monitor and investigate complaints of child abuse”.
As an MP and minister, it would be remiss to not clarify the PM’s Department stance on children’s right to be safe from sexual harm.
Families and homes are meant to be safe spaces for children, not environments of abuse. Data from the police has revealed that most child sexual abuse cases involve perpetrators the victim knows, most often their biological or stepfathers.
Furthermore, a staggering 42% increase in child sexual abuse cases was recorded between 2020 and 2021. The power dynamics of being harmed by a trusted individual, especially family, makes speaking out daunting and the routine silencing and shaming of victims only serve to further exacerbate the issue.
JAG demands that the government definitively stands against child sexual abuse and we hope that the Prime Minister’s Department, the police and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development take a clear stance as well as continue to oversee the investigation into the case.
In addressing this issue, the government should know that every survivor and every Malaysian voter will take note of how it chooses to protect its children.
Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Family Frontiers
- Perak Women for Women Society
- Justice for Sisters
- Sarawak Women for Women Society
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
- Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
- Kryss Network
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
- All Women’s Action Society (Awam)