Child sexual abuse cases have been on the rise and in the limelight, with more child victims braving up to share the incidents with their parents, who then report it to the police. Children are also more conscious of their private bodies as efforts on educating them on sexual abuse has increased. These efforts should be praised, however, awareness can only do so much if justice for the young victim is not served.
De facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong, in a verbal reply to a question brought up in Parliament in October 2019, noted that sexual crimes against children was at an all-time high, with some 3,738 new cases recorded nationwide since 2017. Of these, 978 cases were recorded between January to August 2019, with Johor featuring prominently in the statistics.
When a police report on a child sexual abuse is made, a court orders the child’s statements of the account to be taken at a Child Interview Centre (CIC). The CIC is where the police records video statements from child victims and child witnesses, to be used later in court. Statements are recorded through a recording machine that abides by the specifications of the court. Certified police personnel have been trained to adduce evidence from children through various methods including drawings and the use of anatomically-correct dolls.
CICs were established following the enactment of the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007. They fall under the purview of the police’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division (D11), which is a branch under the police’s Criminal Investigation Department. The Johor CIC was one of the first three to be set up in the country in 2007, while the other two are located in Bukit Aman and Penang.
Until recently, child victims in our state did not have immediate access to give their statements due to budgetary constraints. Johor CIC, a court-gazetted building, was defunct for several years. Its recording equipment broke down, which meant the child would be sent to Seremban or Melaka’s CIC to have their statements recorded. This meant delays in recording the statement, building up a backlog of cases.
A critical component of police investigations involving children, it was crucial to have the CIC fully functioning and operational.
It was then when IMSHA winner Johor’s Women League (JEWEL), an NGO championing women’s and children’s rights, recognised the urgency of this matter, entered the picture.
“We do a lot of child sexual abuse awareness and prevention work through our signature Kempen TinDAK. As the campaign developed, we became increasingly aware of the many gaps in the child protection ecosystem. In the course of us engaging with the D11 unit, we came to understand the challenges they faced,” said Thanam Visvanathan-Suresh, JEWEL’s past President and coordinator of Kempen TinDAK.
“The lack of an operational recording machine had an impact on the management of cases. Once we truly understood what the problem was, we felt that this was a deficit we had to redress together. Access to justice for child victims of abuse was essential to us; we needed to be part of the solution.”
Retired IT consultant Tan Chee Kiong was roped in as a consultant on the project. An additional RM10,000 was donated by the office of the Johor Bahru Member of Parliament.
The project included wiring repairs, installing new ceiling boards, servicing the old air-conditioning units, providing a new customised recording machine which was supplied by Penang-based Win Win Dot Net Enterprise, and a complete refurbishment of two key rooms used to record statements from affected children.
The total cost of the project thus far is around RM70,000.
While more needs to be done to refurbish the building, the CIC is running at its fully operational capacity for the time being.
To further support daily operations at the CIC, another fellow IMSHA winner Kechara Soup Kitchen, Tesco and Free Market JB were invited to donate supplies for the CIC kitchen and provide clean toys respectively. The CIC serves the needs of victims from all over Johor, therefore, the need to have a well-stocked kitchen and toys for the children.
Lions Club of JB Golden Century financed the landscaping and cleaning up of the surroundings, and an anonymous donor donated a brand new air-conditioning unit for the child interview room. Child rights activist Syed Azmi’s NGO Puak Payong donated a year’s worth of supermarket vouchers, while former Miss Malaysia Deborah Henry also sent a supply of hand-made dolls for children to take home.
The CIC project was completed in November 2019. Since then, the backlog of cases have all been cleared.
“This project was successful because the D-11 Unit embraced the idea of working with an NGO to make things better at the CIC,” said JEWEL President Liza Alip.
“We are duty bearers to our children, therefore, it was important for us to set standards to get this right”.