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Neglected, Abused & Unloved


According to Section 2 of the Malaysian Child Act 2001, a “child” means a person who is under the age of eighteen. To a layman, a child is a simply a person of a very young age, immature, naive, unexposed to the reality of the harsh world. A child is in fact a young person who needs protection, guidance, education and the love and warmth of the world. Yet the aforesaid is tragically unattainable.

late, we have come across incidences in the media where children including infants becoming the unfortunate victims of abuses not only in the hands of sadistic souls but supposedly trusted caregivers. Time and time again Malaysians were shocked by news of innocents lives being ended in sad situations. There were reports of an infant having bruises on his body, nanny recklessly dropping the little one onto the floor like a doll and step parent sexually assaulting them. Even shocking was when parents of an infant who initially thought that he was missing, discovered his dead body in the freezer of the babysitter. According to a report by a mainstream media, the New Strait Times, there are too many child abuse cases in Malaysia. Some 14 cases are reported daily. But many remain beyond the ken of the authorities. Children with disabilities are prone to becoming victims as they are helpless in defending themselves against heartless caregivers.


The Effects of Abuses on the Child

Violence does not only leave behind physical scars but also causes other impairments that are not so obvious to the eyes. Abused children find it hard to learn or socialise. They withdraw from the world and live in silent torment. What is more dangerous, victims of child abuse become dysfunctional adults and abusive parents themselves. Pain has staying power. It remains long after the child has forgiven the abuser.

In an article by The Star Malaysia, reports suggest a long list of symptoms associated with child abuse, including aggression towards peers and older people, an intense feeling of fear, depression and anxiety, nightmares or insomnia, unpredictable mood swings and behaviourial extremes. It is also not uncommon for such individuals to live with eating disorders or have suicidal tendencies. Chronic abuse can make victims vulnerable to problem such as post-traumatic stress disorder or have learning and memory difficulties.

In addition to emotional and physical effects, it is highly likely that victims of abuses are more susceptible to problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy and low academic achievement, which boil down to not having great role models to look up to or have trustworthy adults that they could depend on.

Why did it happen?

The causes of child abuse are numerous and complex. Many of the reported cases point to family breakdown and substance abuse by parents. Poverty and stress are there in the cause list, too. Research has shown that people who physically, mentally, or emotionally mistreat and manipulate children are those whose own formative years were fraught with abuse. It is likely that child abusers unconsciously cope with reminders of their past powerlessness by replaying the role of their oppressors, akin to the way trauma sufferers would turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or violence to temporarily relieve their painful memories. Simply put the abused abuses the child.

What Are the Major Types of Child Abuse and Neglect?

The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not mean that child maltreatment is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination. This fact sheet is intended to help you better understand the legal definition of child abuse and neglect, learn about the different types of abuse and neglect, and recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect.

Physical abuse is non accidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child, that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child.

Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child. Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be;

 •  Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)  •  Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)  •  Educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)  •  Emotional (e.g., inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)

Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may contribute to maltreatment, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance. When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child’s health or safety is at risk, then child welfare intervention may be required. In addition, many states provide an exception to the definition of neglect for parents who choose not to seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs.

Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials. Sexual abuse is “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behaviour that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove, and therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other types of maltreatment are identified.

Abandonment is now defined as a form of neglect. In general, a child is considered to be abandoned when the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

Recognizing Signs of Abuse and Neglect

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect.

The Child

 •  Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance

 •  Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention

 •  Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes

 •  Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen

 •  Lacks adult supervision

 •  Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn

 •  Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home

 •  Is reluctant to be around a particular person

 •  Discloses maltreatment

The Parent

 •  Denies the existence of—or blames the child for—the child’s problems in school or at home

 •  Asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves

 •  Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome

 •  Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve

 •  Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of the parent’s emotional needs

 •  Shows little concern for the child

Signs of Physical Abuse consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child

 •  Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes

 •  Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school

 •  Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home

 •  Shrinks at the approach of adults

 •  Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

 •  Abuses animals or pets

Signs of Physical Abuse consider the possibility of physical abuse when the parent or caregiver

 •  Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury, or provides an explanation that is not consistent with the injury

 •  Describes the child as “evil” or in some other very negative way

 •  Uses harsh physical discipline with the child

 •  Has a history of abuse as a child

 •  Has a history of abusing animals or pets

Signs of Neglect consider the possibility of neglect when the child

 •  Is frequently absent from school

 •  Begs or steals food or money

Signs of Emotional Maltreatment consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the child

 •  Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression

 •  Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or headbanging, for example)

 •  Is delayed in physical or emotional development

 •  Has attempted suicide

 •  Reports a lack of attachment to the parent

Signs of Emotional Maltreatment consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the parent or caregiver

 •  Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child

 •  Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s problems

 •  Overtly rejects the child

Stop the Abuse before it gets even worse

Experts tell us that the best way to stop child abuse is to prevent it from happening. We agree. To do this, community heads, school authorities and religious leaders must join hands in a national effort to identify and help at-risk children. The nature and number of child abuse cases are compelling enough for these eminent members of society to engage in advocacy against all manner of child abuse. People’s attitudes and behaviours need to be changed. Yes, there are laws to curb violence against children. But legislation can only do so much.

Advocacy must reach the hearts and minds of the people. It must help remove the root causes leading to violence. While these preventive measures are undertaken country-wide, we must not forget to put in place measures to help people respond to and monitor child abuse. Child-friendly reporting procedures are crucial. They must locate centres of child abuse for them to be effective. Studies show violence mainly happens at home, schools, educational institutions, community settings and care centres. It is at these locations that child-friendly helplines are needed. Reporting procedures should encourage reporting, not place hurdles along the way. A child only has precious minutes to report any abuse. All it needs is a minute for a child to be maimed. Or worse. Procedures that exist are tedious and discourage reporting. Helplines must help, not hamper. The vulnerable sometimes have to be protected from their loved ones.


Child abuse is an important area but often this has been neglected by healthcare providers and surrounding, due to its sensitive information and social taboo. We need to revolutionize child abuse prevention programs and think outside the box on how to move these forward. In their review article, Zahilah Filzah & FahishamTaib (2015), suggest the use of video and social media network to raise awareness on child abuse. Videos on child sexual abuse were screened in TGV cinemas nationwide in 2015. They were also available on YouTube and have been shared by thousands of Malaysians across social media network. More importantly, the welfare system needs to be strengthened and crucially, the number of well-trained child protectors need to be increased to support the burden of child abuse cases in Malaysia. This includes home visits and follow up as per planned.








 •  "Child Abuse & Neglect". 2017 Journal Citation Reports. Web of Science (Science ed.). Clarivate Analytics. 2018.


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