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Malaysia Today - Your Source of Independent News

Trapped in a vicious cycle

Posted: 05 Aug 2013 02:57 PM PDT

Najib said he was prepared to consider giving the police "whatever they required" to fight crime, provided these requests were reasonable and affordable.

Why the hypocrisy? His spirit is not willing and his flesh is even weaker. The police will never be given the independence they need to operate effectively. Umno-Baru finds the police useful for hounding opposition politicians, activists and dog trainers.

By Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysiakini

"Malaysia is more dangerous than South Africa," were the parting words of a retired couple who returned to Johannesburg after a failed attempt to live in Malaysia under the 'Malaysia My Second Home' (MM2H) programme. Friends of the couple said they had feared for their own and their family's safety.

Unlike this South African couple, ordinary Malaysians are trapped in a vicious cycle of emboldened criminals, an inept police force and a government in denial.  Few have access to guns like the Tan Sri who recently shot dead a thief at a clinic in Kuala Lumpur.

Owning a gun is not what Malaysians desire. We want a police force which is committed to tackling crime and not being the lapdog of Umno Baru. Cabinet ministers deny that a state of lawlessness exists. They issue statements and are then trapped by their own spin. Former home minister Hishammuddin Hussein, more noted for his incompetence than his achievements in office, had complete disregard for the concerns of the public. He ridiculed the rakyat after they complained about rising crime levels and told them that increased crime was only a "perception".

In October 2012, the government's efficiency-monitoring unit Pemandu released data which appeared contradictory. This prompted the DAP's Tony Pua to request from the home minister, a detailed breakdown of statistics, according to categories of crime.

Hishammuddin said the statistics were not available: "…the ministry is of the view that it is not plausible to present the detailed statistics for each crime category according to the various districts in Selangor and all states…"

He knows that BN's fabricated crime figures would be exposed if the statistics were released.


What would Hishammuddin and his family know about crime when they have 24-hour security and well-guarded properties? Many Umno-Baru politicians enjoy the trappings of high office which closely resemble an aristocratic life of pomp, pageantry and pampering.

In 2010, PKR's Tian Chua revealed that the police had lost 36 semi-automatic pistols, 51 revolvers and two sub-machine guns since 2001. The loss also included 49 motorcycles, three cars, one van and one 4WD.

Were these items lost through carelessness or were they stolen? What steps have been taken to ensure that the mistakes are not repeated? Three years ago, the MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek allegedly called Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng a liar, when a Bernama report alleged that Lim had said that kidnappings were common in Johor.

Chua said: "If he really said that, then Lim Guan Eng is a liar….As I come from Johor itself, I say the statement is very unfair. The crime rate has gone down and Johor is almost all the time the country's top investor destination."

Today, Chua is trapped by his own words.

'Political meddling'

The country has seen an unprecedented rise in gun crime, with six shootings recorded last week. Why did it take the murder of the Arab-Malaysian Development Bank founder Hussain Ahmad Najadi, to wake Umno Baru president Najib Abdul Razak from his hibernation? Did Najib address the nation because the high-profile murder of a foreigner would dent his image overseas? Was he afraid that his silence could be used against him in the Umno general assembly?

Najib said he was prepared to consider giving the police "whatever they required" to fight crime, provided these requests were reasonable and affordable.

Why the hypocrisy? His spirit is not willing and his flesh is even weaker. The police will never be given the independence they need to operate effectively. Umno-Baru finds the police useful for hounding opposition politicians, activists and dog trainers.

If Najib were sincere, he would push for the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar fears that, with the IPCMC, police personnel would end up being treated worse than criminals. Only an Umno Baru politician would be capable of making stupid remarks like that.

When the former police chief Musa Hassan exposed corruption in the police force, we were angry with him for waiting until he had left office before making the revelations. Musa (left) had also complained about political interference. So, has Najib stopped this political meddling? Has Najib even begun to investigate any of the points raised by Musa? Have any conclusions been drawn, or is Najib afraid of revealing a can of worms?

Musa's allegations of the police being linked to criminal syndicates are not new. We heard about them over 20 years ago, but what has been done?

Last week, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar fumed over the Singaporean newspaper The New Paper's headline, 'Welcome to Malaysia where… death is cheap and staying alive costly'.

There is some truth in the claims of the article, although it omitted to mention that inflation has increased the cost of arranging contract killings. In the nineties, an Ipoh man claimed that hacking off a limb would cost RM200 and that taking someone's life would cost RM 400.

Why two reports?

Today, Ipohites who are victims of crime, are angry when told to make two police reports; the first brief report must be made at the police station which covers their area of residence or where the theft occurred, whilst the second detailed report is to be made with 'Team A' at the police headquarters, opposite the Ipoh railway station.

Why two reports? Have the police so much time on their hands, that they feel it necessary to waste the rakyat's time and taxpayer's money, too? Victims of crime are already traumatised. Must they go through more agony, this time at the hands of the police? Not everyone can spare money for travel, or time off from work or their hospital bed, to make several reports.

There are many stories of police incompetence or delay in reaching the scene of the crime. Some victims claim that the police are either too lazy or incapable of taking any forensic evidence.

In one case, the victim whose car was a write-off after a drunk driver drove into him, was told by the police not to mention the drunkenness in his report. Why? Others allege that the police brow-beat the victims into making very brief police reports. Is this to save police time or reduce their work load?

Khalid accused the Singaporeans of being busybodies, whilst Utusan Malaysia went further and claimed that jealousy was a contributory factor in the controversial headline.

Instead of quibbling about newspaper headlines, Khalid should act to reduce the crime rate of Malaysia. He faces a difficult task because he will be trapped in a mire of corruption created by rogue policemen, a corrupt judiciary and corrupt Umno Baru politicians. – Malaysiakini

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In 'real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.

A Guide to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) – Why BANTAH?

Posted: 05 Aug 2013 01:06 PM PDT 

In fact, the TPPA is neither about fair trade nor even about free trade alone, since it seeks to lock in the monopolistic position of big corporations over their industries. It is about ensuring the protection and prioritization of corporate interests above those of public welfare, safety and the socio-economic interests of less affluent economies than the obvious economic master here, which is America. 

Anas Alam Faizli

Back in 2008, the Malaysian government concluded the signing of a US-Malaysia FTA with 58 redlines or "red-stops", which discontinued the two-year negotiation. Among leading protagonists was then Agriculture Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who mentioned that he would not compromise the livelihood of local farmers. He was even quoted as saying 'over my dead body' by some quarters. YB Khairy Jamaluddin even led a protest, citing that the FTA would take away Malaysia's sovereignty, while patent protection would deny access to generic medicine. Question is, what has changed in the past five years? One thing for sure, it is definitely not the content of the FTA.

Why Trans Pacific?

We can imply that TPPA is called Trans Pacific because of the geographic locations of the countries taking part in the negotiations, and between whom the agreement aims to conclude amongst. TPPA is unique in the sense that it is open-ended agreement. Any country interested to join can join in as long as they agree with concluded text and other countries agree to the entry.

Every country participating in the TPPA already has existing FTA with America except Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia and Brunei. Japan and New Zealand are developed economies with very large trade sizes with other countries in the world, and Brunei is a resource-rich nation with a less significant trade size. That leaves Malaysia, which has most at stake as a developing nation and a new entrant to an FTA with America.

What does this mean? It means that, for countries with existing FTAs with America, the TPPA will probably just result in minor additions to status quo. But for our small economy, the TPPA will entail a much bigger impact.

The first TPPA negotiation was held in March 2010 amongst 8 countries, while Malaysia joined in December 2010, followed by Mexico and Canada December 2012. Recently, Japan joined in at the Kota Kinabalu negotiation round.

The content of TPPA's texts is confidential and negotiations are held behind closed doors. What we have are five leaked chapters, namely Investment, Intellectual Property, Trade to Barrier and Regulatory Coherence. MITI reported that it has almost concluded 14 out of the 29 chapters.

Previous US FTAs have shown that they do not vary much from each, with an average variance of about less than 5%. This clear indicates standardization on the part of the Americans and reluctance in entertaining non-conforming measures (termed as "exclusions") at the negotiation table. It can thus be implied that one FTA will not be that much different from another. Other US FTAs with Singapore, South Korea and Chile serve as good guidance for us to know what to expect in the TPPA.

On Investment and Sovereignty

This is arguably the biggest chapter, which also has linkages to most of the other chapters. This chapter will restrict the policy space of governments through its 'Investor-To-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)' and the 'State-to-state Dispute Settlement' (SSDS) clauses. TPPA in this case supposedly "strengthens" trans-national 'corporate' justice (fairness and equity) – by providing ways for multinational corporations to trample over national legal systems through international arbitration tribunals comprising of three judges; two international and one local.

What do fairness and equity here mean? Mainly, MNCs can expect no local condition or regulation changes affecting them once there reside in a partner country. For example, if Malaysia suddenly happens to find out that a certain ingredient in tobacco is harmful, and decide to ban it thereby affecting the profitability of a Tobacco MNC, the MNC has the right to sue the government for potential profit loss for the remaining period of their permit in the country, with interest. Such was the case with Phillip Moris, when it sued the Australian government over a new law onto cigarette packaging. The same could happen if Malaysia decides to be more stringent with LYNAS, for example, in the future.

To consider the extreme, we can even go to the extent of saying that legislators and the Parliament will be essentially rendered redundant; their hands will be tied to enacting only new laws that will not affect MNCs' profitability and business viability! We recall Mexico being sued for USD 16 billion for disallowing removal of toxic waste harmful to its environment by an American corporation.

It is also widely known that developed nations like America and Japan are attempting the ISDS via the TPPA. ISDS is under a provision under the Investment Chapter which essentially will allow any corporations to take the Malaysian government to court for claims for damages or loss. It was not ratified previously under existing World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements. We can only imply with no substantial certainty that these clauses were not ratified by WTO for its potential negative impacts on some signatory countries, but there is still reason to be cautious.

On Government Procurement and Petronas Vendor Development Program

With this chapter, all government procurement including that of the GLCs and Petronas cannot have special conditions to help local contractors in any way deemed unfair to other corporations. There is a floor threshold for this ruling; deriving from previous US FTAs, we expect it to be around RM 23 million and above which probably leaves room for only the small peripheral contracts for local companies. Meanwhile, the government procurement bill is sized at RM130 billion, or 25% of the Malaysian GDP.

Empirical evidence has shown that 94% of the American government procurement goes to American companies (Khor, 2008) and only 6% goes to over 170 companies worldwide. Such limited potential gains from what is supposed to be opening our doors to America! It is in fact our floodgate that is being opened for America. What will happen to our local contractors? And what of all those local oil and gas contractors – Can even our giants like Sapura Kencana and MMHE at their nascent stages survive the competitive onslaught from developed nations? Not to mention the smaller players? Even the Petronas Vendor Development Program and licenses will witness its death.

On SMEs and Agriculture

Among other things, The TPPA aims at trade liberalization and tariff reduction, which may cause drastic loss of jobs in many sectors. A direct impact is downward pressure on workers' wages, expanding even further the currently large income disparity gap. Mexico serves as a good reminder; following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and the US, three million out of ten million Mexicans lost their jobs.

Tariff reductions will adversely impact particularly agricultural products. Promoting efficiency and healthy competition, however noble, becomes unfair when more than 90% of Malaysian companies in the agriculture sector are SMEs. They will face unfair competition from giant agricultural exporters from TPPA countries such as the US, Canada, and Japan, whose governments in the TPPA will not reduce huge subsidies to their farmers. A study by UNCTAD showed that subsidies reduce the price of American rice crop by 45% below cost of production, soybean by 32% and cotton by 52%. A rough calculation indicates that their rice can flood the Malaysian market at as low as RM1.40/ kg– what will happen to BERNAS, and more importantly, local planters then?

On Intellectual Property – Medicine Patent and Copyright

The Big Pharmas will get medicine patents and obtain longer patents easily. This would also render generic medicines more difficult to, or delayed access, such as medicines for cancer, HIV and other chronic illnesses. This will definitely affect our populace. For example, Herceptin which is used for cancer, currently costs RM8,000 per cycle and is used for 17 cycles. Treating a lung cancer patient costs an average of MYR 44,725 ($14,455) per year, per patient. The chance of access to these medicines for those unable to afford these exorbitant prices becomes slimmer if generic medicines are prohibited due to an extra 20 years to patents where patent law is loosened.

Just as the TPPA's intellectual property (IP) protection measures would make medical treatment more expensive for ordinary Malaysians, TPPA countries' educational and research activities could also be harmed – and made more expensive – due to the more stringent copyright laws proposed. These include the 'digital commons' such as the Internet-based resources. Current copyright law is proposed to be extended from 50 years to 120. That's also 70 more years of limited accessibility to students and academia due to prohibitive prices of book and references.

On Tobacco control and Public Health

Tobacco is not our average ordinary product – it kills at least 50% of its consumers prematurely. Malaysia, along with all other TPP countries except the USA, is party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which requires countries to regulate tobacco, reduce its use and withhold grant incentives to the tobacco industry. The FCTC is a binding international treaty and Malaysia has been a Party; this entails the aligning of national policies with the goal of reduction in tobacco use and regulating the tobacco industry. Many provisions in various TPPA Chapters contradict those in the FCTC. This alone is cause for concern considering the potential conflicts between the two in the future, and more importantly the general harm to public health of a more heavily tobacco-consuming society.

On Capital Control Capability

Another major consequence of the TPPA is restriction on our capability to enforce capital control. According to Reinhart & Roghoff (2009), periods of high international capital mobility have repeatedly produced international banking crises, not only as witnessed here at home and in the region in 1997, but also historically. When financial systems are adequately regulated, the scope for damaging financial cycles can be contained, or at least leave the economy less prone to such large cyclical swings as seen in today's more liberalized environments. The idea is not to destruct efforts for a liberalized and efficient financial sector, nor to hinder Malaysia's competitiveness in attracting foreign investments, but rather to cushion impacts of economic shocks to the most vulnerable Malaysian businesses and entrepreneurs. It is not archaic to take some heed from temporary capital controls measures we undertook during the Asian Financial Crisis. Even the IMF admits to the role that capital control played in expediting our recovery compared to that of Indonesia & Thailand.

The Trade and FDI Myth

Back to trade itself, it has always been expected that the main benefits of signing an FTA with the US will be reflected through higher gains in trade benefits. How is it then that even in the case of a relatively stronger economy such Singapore, trade deficit had only widened from USD1.4 billion in 2003 when they signed the agreement, to USD4.3 billion in 2004 and USD6.9 billion in 2006 to USD10.5 billion in 2012?! Furthermore, no evidence of increased long term quality investments and FDI were found in bilateral trade agreements, according to a report by the United Nations on FTA impacts. While trade diversion is a valid concern, the loss of incomes and benefits from trade diversion as a result of opting out of TPPA, must be determinedly greater than the various losses and costs that the TPPA entails to the larger economy.

Protests around the World against US FTA

It is not uncommon for nations worldwide to protest against FTAs with America. In Guatemala, two died protesting, and the people of Guatemala brought the government to court claiming that the FTA would go against at least 130 Acts in the Guatemalan constitution. In Ecuador, Emergency had to be declared due to massive demonstrations. Chief negotiators in Thailand and Colombia also resigned from their positions in protest. In South Korea, a protestor burnt himself to death to show protest against an FTA that it had with the US, which only passed by Parliament after the ruling Government effectively locked up the opposition.

Countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland had also previously engaged in negotiations with America for an FTA, but they were never signed.

In Malaysia, the Third World Network (TWN) and the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) have been at the forefront of engaging with US-Malaysia FTA issues since 2008, and has continued to do so with the TPPA. Notable efforts have surfaced again lately in light of the TPPA negotiations and the leaked chapters. On 6th of June 2013, YB Nurul Izzah issued a press statement questioning the secrecy of the TPPA negotiation and asked pertinent questions; whether Malaysia plans to trade its sovereignty for free trade. She continued to put pressure from Pakatan Rakyat which led to the setting up of a parliamentary caucus and more engagement from MITI.

Simultaneously, momentum continues to build up with NGOs such as BLINDSPOT, MTEM, MAC, MTUC, GBM, IKRAM continuously engaging in forums and public awareness efforts. These efforts have no other aim than to make the public aware for the need for them to demand their engagement with the government in the negotiations. Other high profile figures like Tun Mahathir and Liow Tiong Lai also openly expressed opposition to the TPPA further fuelling efforts for public to engage in the issue.

Badan Bertindak Bantah TPPA (The Coalition Act against TPPA)

Badan Bertindak Bantah TPPA is a coalition of 52 Non-Governmental Organisations and 7 Coalition Councils formed with the aim of raising the people's awareness with regards to TPPA in a sincere effort to ensure Malaysia gets the best out of TPPA. Our view is that the TPPA is straddled between the hopes of a relatively small circle of multinational corporations, whose commercial interests stand to benefit the most from the proposals, and the fears of civil society organizations representing the people of all 12 TPPA countries. In fact, the TPPA is neither about fair trade nor even about free trade alone, since it seeks to lock in the monopolistic position of big corporations over their industries. It is about ensuring the protection and prioritization of corporate interests above those of public welfare, safety and the socio-economic interests of less affluent economies than the obvious economic master here, which is America.

We note that America is assisted by a force of 1,000 that form a special advisory committee, mostly represented by industry experts. We demand the same here for Malaysia. A coveted UNDP study is hardly sufficient to ensure the public that our livelihoods and that of our future generations are not under threat here. Given the track record, Malaysia is not exactly a master at negotiations, having lost Block L and M, a skewed water agreement with Singapore, Batu Puteh island and many other international disputes. Negotiators from MITI alone cannot decide the fate of future generations of Malaysia.

Ultimately, the Badan Bertindak Bantah TPPA demands for the Government of Malaysia to suspend or pull out its involvement in the TPPA negotiations unless and until, an impartial and comprehensive cost-and-benefit-analysis and a comparative advantage study are carried out, disclosed and publicly debated by all stakeholders in Malaysia, that the texts are examined, scrutinized and assessed by parliament to rectify the TPPA as negotiated is indeed in Malaysia's favour and interests, that the concerns are seen to have been incorporated into Malaysia's positions and proposals for the TPPA; and that a popular referendum is held to determine to what extent Malaysians are in support of their government signing and ratifying the TPPA.

We demand for the government to adopt a transparent stance in this and for the voices of the various stakeholders amongst the people of Malaysia are considered in this negotiation round. Or else, pull out from TPPA negotiations in an absolute manner. A textbook outline of the benefits of free trade will not suffice; the TPPA may be a free trade agreement in form, but it is an imperialistic regulatory agreement in substance.

Attention and empathy is needed from civil society itself. Academics, industry experts, practitioners and even lay people who are concerned about the future of Malaysia must search, aim to understand research, speak out and write to contribute to current efforts to demanding the best out of our negotiations. Else, we really should be bidding our farewell to America and run for the door.

*Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate, co-Founder of BLINDSPOT and BADAN BERTINDAK BANTAH TPPA and tweets at @aafaizli

GE13: Political awakening in Sabah?

Posted: 05 Aug 2013 12:35 PM PDT

The electorate has become more politically aware of their democratic rights — to choose political parties that can best fight for their interests, says Arnold Puyok.

The election results in Sabah indicate that the state continues to play its role as kingmaker in forming the ruling government at the federal level. Sabah's fixed deposit status remains but it is set to be challenged in the next election due to the saliency of issues in the Kadazandusun and Chinese areas. 

The dust from the 13th Malaysian General Election has finally settled.

As expected, BN (Barisan Nasional) returned to power winning 133 (60 per cent) out of 222 federal seats as opposed to PR (Pakatan Rakyat) 89 (40 per cent). In terms of popular votes, BN polled 46% compared to PR 54 per cent. However, as Malaysia practices first-past-the-post system, the election results gave BN the mandate to rule the country for another term. PR refused to accept the results due to what it termed "widespread abuses" in the electoral system. The alleged use of foreigners to vote, vote-buying, unprofessional conduct of the Election Commission (EC) officials, and so on, are among the examples of fraudulent practices PR accused BN of condoning.

Once again, Sabah and Sarawak helped BN win with a simple majority. In Peninsula Malaysia, BN only managed to win 86 or 39 per cent of the federal seats compared to PR 80 or 36 per cent. Sabah and Sarawak contributed 47 or 21 per cent of the federal seats to BN. The results showed that Sabah and Sarawak continued to play their kingmaker role to ensure BN's electoral victory.

Upon announcing BN's return to power, Najib Razak blamed BN's poor performance on the "Chinese tsunami". The next day, the BN-controlled newspaper Utusan Malaysia carried a front-paged news entitled "Apa Lagi Cina Mahu?" (What More Do the Chinese Want?). The Chinese factor is indeed decisive. Most of the Chinese seats – either at the state or federal level – were won by DAP (Democratic Action Party). Lim Kit Siang, the DAP supremo, who contested in Gelang Patah, managed to defeat Abdul Ghani Othman, the Johor Menteri Besar. The dramatic swing of the Chinese voters to the Opposition was also evident in most of the Chinese-majority seats in Sabah and Sarawak.


Apart from the Chinese factor, analysts also cited "urban uprising" as a major cause for BN's dismal performance. BN continued its dominance in the rural areas while the Opposition dominated in semi-urban and urban areas.

In Sabah, the Opposition managed to increase its share of the state seats from one in 2008 to 12 in 2013. At the federal level, the opposition managed to get an additional two seats (Table 1). What accounts for the Sabah Opposition's electoral gains in 2013? Can the Chinese tsunami and urban uprising hypotheses be used to explain the opposition's electoral performance in Sabah? What issues shaped the electoral outcomes in Sabah. What do the election results tell us about Sabah politics in the next five years?

Read more at: 

Push for real change, not another coup d'etat

Posted: 05 Aug 2013 12:26 PM PDT 

Remember how the Democrat Party vehemently opposed street protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) which have plagued Thailand for the past few years, but seem to have political amnesia that it was their tacit support for violent protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) which pioneered and set the gold standard for taking politics out of parliament and on to the streets? 

Songkran Grachangnetara, Bangkok Post

This week, debate on one of the most important and controversial bills to be submitted for parliamentary approval will commence, just as the protests outside the House become more vocal. 

To most observers there is very little faith that a parliamentary solution to Thailand's political paralysis, through the passing of Worachai Hema's amnesty bill, will achieve reconciliation. 

Sadly, I would have to agree.

As long as "reconciliation" is about the political chess match between Thaksin Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva, or between Pheu Thai and the Democrat Party, instead of being about peace and prosperity for all Thais, we are doomed.

How can reconciliation be achieved when the very people that are responsible for this political impasse are the only ones involved in finding a solution? 

Read more at:


Who do we blame for child abuse?

Posted: 05 Aug 2013 12:19 PM PDT 

We need to accept that not every one on the planet wishes to marry the person he or she loves. Some people could indeed be better off remaining single or being in a union without children. However, our society practically forces every couple in a sexual relationship to enter into the institution of marriage. 

The problem goes deeper than merely the morals of the perpetrators.

Tamil Selvan Ramis, FMT

Since the early 1980s, when the phenomenon of child abuse started to become a matter of public discourse, our views on its causes and remedies have often been misdirected by sensationalised media coverage highlighting the suffering of the victims and implicitly condemning the perpetrators as inhuman or even diabolical.

Our typical initial reaction to such news and commentary is shock and disgust. This is often followed by a sense of relief that neither us nor anyone close to us is so bad that we would ever descend to such beastly behaviour.

Not many of us will carry our reflections further to consider the possibility that the press, consciously or not, is giving us a skewed view of the issue in its failure to consider the socio-economic contexts in which the abuses occur.

There is no denying that the number of child abuse cases in Malaysia is skyrocketing. According to the Social Welfare Department, there were 1,242 reported cases in 2002. This number increased to 1,999 in 2006 and 3,047 in 2010. That is an increase of about 145% in less than 10 years.

In a recent case, a Kuala Terengganu couple were sentenced to long prison terms for abusing three children from the woman's previous marriage. Their abusive acts included: tying a seven-year-old victim to a chair before splashing him with hot water, burning his body with a cigarette and shoving a fishing rod into his anus; hitting a five-year-old victim in his groin with a broom; and burning the ears and knees of a 30-month-old victim with a cigarette. What a cruel couple, right?

Child abuse is too complex an issue to be dismissed as a mere instance of mindless cruelty. Various cultural, economic and ethical factors come into play, and it is essential to examine these to find effective and holistic solutions.

Neglect, which is the failure to provide for the child's basic needs, is the most common form of child abuse in Malaysia, followed by physical abuse and sexual abuse. Contrary to popular perception, most child abusers are not strangers to their victims. They could be their parents, other immediate family members, more distant relatives, or foster parents.

Abuse can occur in families that face prolonged financial problems. People who live in poverty are prone to psychological stress, which can provoke anger. This anger is sometimes directed at children, usually because they are physically weaker than the adult abusers.

Here is an excerpt, edited for clarity, from an interview conducted with a reported abuser by a group of Malaysian researchers:

"I'm a widow, a single mother. I have no one to depend on. I have a food stall in front of a school. We five depend solely on the income from the stall.

"He [the abused child] asked for an allowance. I don't have enough money to give him a regular allowance. Suddenly, I heard that he had been stealing in school. What kind of mother would not get angry?"

Lacking equity

Unless we can conclude that all poor people are losers in both the material and psychological senses, we need to acknowledge that our inequitable capitalistic society is at least partly to blame.

In such a society, the stress experienced by the less fortunate becomes more acute and more likely to lead to abusive behaviour.

Frequently enough, our religious leaders assert that neglect of religious obligations in daily life is one of the main reasons for the rising rate of child abuse in the country. However, people who abuse children might not necessarily lack religion, but equity.

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