By Dr. Mohd Shahidan Shaari and Dr. Rozilawati Mahadi*
CHILDREN are a part of society that plays a pivotal role in future development. They should be moulded into good human capital and should not be deprived of adequate protection. They must be provided with healthy and conducive environments so that they can grow up happily. Therefore, it is imperative to protect them from any abuse. Child abuse can be defined as any intentional harming of a child under the age of 18 by an adult or another child.
Child abuse has long become a global issue, but it is still not on everyone’s lips like COVID-19. It merits serious attention and should not be condoned. It has become more complex to get rid of this disease, which has been long inherent in our society, when many child abuse cases remain unreported due to shame or fear. Biological parents committed most cases of child abuse. Hence, it sank like a stone because children chose to eschew telling the truth. Thus, all people, including teachers, are in the dark of the true story.
Before proposing any panacea for this problem, we should get the right end of the stick to avoid fighting a losing battle. The number of child abuse cases in Malaysia exhibited an upward trend in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2019.
According to the Department of Social Welfare, more than 2,000 child abuse cases were reported each year, and the number of cases in 2019 stood at 6,061. As many as 2,040 child abuse cases were reported in the first four months of 2021. If this issue remains prevalent in our country, some negative repercussions might ensue.
Other than inflicting injuries on children due to abuse, their mental development can also be affected. This is the reason why abused children prefer to be isolated from their peers. They also suffer from trauma. What is even worse is that they jump the gun by harming their friends to attract attention from others. Some studies have also found that people who experienced abuse during their childhood have a higher tendency to commit crimes.
In the absence of swift action to prevent child abuse, children’s future might be bleak.
Economists have found several factors that can influence child abuse from an economic perspective. A study found that a higher number of women in the labour force might result in more child abuse cases in Malaysia.
According to the Department of Statistics, the number of women in the labour force increased from 6,078,100 to 6,114,000 people in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the number of women in employment decreased albeit slightly, from 5,871,000 to 5,827,900 people. Out of 15,667,000 people in the labour force, women accounted for 39.04%, and 5,827,900 of them were employed.
Working mothers are more vulnerable to stress, and thus they vent it on their children. This is because it is difficult for them to do a balancing act between family and work. If they do not participate in the labour force, they will have more time with their family, and their attachment to children is stronger. Thus, child abuse might not transpire.
Unemployment is also one of the reasons why child abuse cases are on the rise in Malaysia. A study showed that a higher number of unemployed people can lead to higher child abuse cases. According to the Department of Statistics, the number of unemployed people increased significantly by 39.9%, from 508,200 to 711,000 people in 2020, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Individuals who lose their jobs will experience stress, and thus this will result in children falling prey to them. In this case, unemployed fathers are more likely to abuse their children.
Due to the fact that more women in the labour force can have deleterious effects on children, it is pivotal to reduce their stress in the workplace. Giving leeway to them, such as flexible working hours, can cause them to manage their time wisely. Thus, it is easy for them to juggle work and family.
Besides, the government needs to delve into strategies to provide more job opportunities to unemployed people, especially during the pandemic. Guiding them to create job opportunities is much better than guiding them to grab job opportunities.
*Dr. Mohd Shahidan Shaari and Dr. Rozilawati Mahadi are senior lecturers from the Faculty of Applied and Human Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Perlis