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The Issue of Incest

Incest has once again captured public attention with the recent media highlight. The sad and brutal murder of Norshakila, a six-year-old girl, whose nude body was found in a drain in an abandoned housing estate in Ampang (New Straits Times, 2 April 2002) brought the issue of violence against children acutely to society’s consciousness. With that, the government’s response has been quick and in many ways, reactive; calling out for harsher punishment and citing reasons like strict laws surrounding polygamy being the cause of incest!

The issue of incest is complex and its occurrence prevalent in all societies. It is also one of the most underreported forms of crime. The reasons are because of its dynamics; the victims are usually young children who are either threatened or manipulated into acquiescence or silence, parents may not be trained to recognise signs of sexual abuse in children, parents who know may not report due to the lack of support systems available, or a host of other factors.

However, one thing that remains of vital importance is the welfare of the victim. This is especially pertinent now that there is so much media emphasis and highlight on the issue. When a victim or family member of the victim wishes to report the crime, how are they ensured to know that they will have support after reporting? The dilemma is increased especially if the offender is the father, uncle or other close relative of the victim. Apart from economic support if the offender is the main breadwinner, there remains the difficult quandary of sending a family member to imprisonment. Without adequate pre and after-counselling or emotional support, this can be an almost impossible decision to make. The offender may also use this factor to blackmail or threaten the victim into silence. With that, harsher punishment will work towards the disadvantage of victims rather than to protect their welfare when the lack of support structures causes more cases to go unreported and remain underground.

At this point, most people who think about incest imagines an adult man – father, uncle or grandfather – raping a young girl child. However, there are also juvenile offenders who may need counselling and forms of intervention other than life imprisonment to prevent reoffending.

All these matters have to be taken into consideration, especially in putting up a strong social, emotional, legal and economical support system before swiftly meting out harsh punishments which include the voyeuristic and barbaric punishment of public whipping. Although punitive action needs to be taken, we must question such an extreme move if it will result in offenders not coming to light, and victims being pushed further into silence.

If you feel strongly about this issue, do something about it. Write a letter to the editor of daily newspapers. Send your concerns to the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department, Malaysia:

Legal Affairs Division
Prime Minister Department
Aras 3 Blok Barat
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan
62502 Putrajaya

Below are some press statements issued by WAO on this issue:

Press Statement on Chastity Belts
Press Statement on Life Sentencing and Whipping for Incest
Kenyataan Akhbar Tentang Hukuman Mandatori Seumur Hidup dan Sebatan Di Tempat Umum

Press Statement on Chastity Belts
17 April 2002

Women’s Aid Organisation refers to news report “Isu saran wanita pakai cawat besi” (Utusan Malaysia, April 17, 2002).

It is most unfortunate that leaders of the country have recently been making a series of careless and misinforming statements on the issue of incest, and contributing to the assortment of erroneous understanding on this matter. In example, the MB of Perlis stating that incest is caused by the apparently strict laws of polygamy, and now, the MB of Seremban suggesting the usage of chastity belts to prevent incest*. Leaders of the country have a great responsibility to do extensive research on the issue at hand before making statements on current issues because they are opinion makers who have the power to shape the laws and policies of this country.

In WAO’s opinion, the suggestion of making women and young girls wear chastity belts is both ludicrious and cruel. Not only does it not address the issue, it places the burden of responsibility back at the women. Men should be able to show control and restrain on their own sexual urges, and to respect women and not view them as mere sexual objects. In addition, victims of incest are not limited to women and girls. Young boys may also be subjected to incest. Incest is a grave issue, and should not be treated in a careless or jocular manner. Efforts must be put into studies on real prevention of this heinous crime, and ample support must be provided to the victims in addition to the question of punishment.

*He later stated that he was only making a historical reference, and not putting it forward as a suggestion.

Jaclyn Kee
Communications Officer
Women’s Aid Organisation

Press Statement on Mandatory Life Sentence
and Public Whipping

30 April 2002

Despite the call by women’s groups that the emphasis on heavier sentencing is not a holistic approach to combat incest, an announcement has been made that the Cabinet is considering life sentencing, caning and public whipping. WAO is appalled that public whipping which amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is being considered. A conscious choice to use violence by state authority is unacceptable.

WAO is mindful that incest is a heinous crime and that the government is deeply concerned. The present proposal for witnesses programs and registration of sex offenders are effective strategies, however severe punishments without equal emphasis on support and protection services for the child and non-offending members of the family may serve to make victims fear their safety and not disclose readily. Let us not forget that the perpetrator is usually a father, brother, uncle or a male relative and the child will fear being accused of breaking up the family. Besides punitive measures, rehabilitation for the offender should also be institutionalised.

Children’s and women’s groups have the immense experience in managing incest cases and have over the years put forward proposals for policy changes especially in the area of implementation of support services and public education. It is imperative that the Legal Coordination Committee in the Prime Minster’s Department initiates consultations with these groups at this stage, so that the voices of the incest survivors can also be heard.

Ivy Josiah
Executive Director
Women’s Aid Organisation

Kenyataan Akhbar Tentang Hukuman Mandatori Seumur Hidup dan Sebatan di Tempat Awam
30 April 2002

Walaupun pertubuhan-pertubuhan wanita telah menyeru bahawa penekanan terhadap hukuman berat bukan merupakan suatu pendekatan yang menyeluruh untuk memerangi sumbang mahram, namun suatu pengumuman tetap dibuat bahawa kabinet dalam proses mempertimbangkan hukuman mandatori seumur hidup, sebat dan sebat mandatori di tempat awam. WAO tergempar bahawa sebatan di khalayak umum yang merupakan suatu perbuatan amat kejam dan tidak berperikemanusiaan sedang dipertimbangkan. Pendekatan terpilih secara sedar tentang kegunaan keganasan oleh kerajaan ini, tidak boleh diterima langsung.

WAO menyedari bahawa sumbang mahram merupakan suatu jenayah terkutuk dan kerajaan amat prihatin terhadap jenayah ini. Cadangan terkini untuk program perlindungan untuk saksi dan pendaftaran pendera seksual merupakan strategi yang efektif. Namun demikian, hukuman yang berat tanpa penekanan yang setara atas perkhidmatan sokongan dan perlindungan untuk anak dan ahli keluarga yang bukan pemangsa, mungkin akan menyebabkan mangsa takut atas keselamatannya dan tidak ingin mendapatkan bantuan secara sukarela. Kita harus ingat bahawa pendera kebanyakannya adalah bapa, abang, bapa saudara mahupun saudara lelaki, dan mangsa tersebut akan takut dituduh memecahbelahkan keluarganya. Selain pendekatan hukuman, pendekatan pemulihan untuk pendera juga harus diinstitusikan.

Pertubuhan wanita dan kanak-kanak mempunyai pengalaman yang luas dalam mengendalikan kes sumbang mahram dan beberapa tahun kebelakangan ini telah memberi usul untuk perubahan polisi terutamanya dalam pelaksanaan perkhidmatan sokongan dan pendidikan awam. Apa yang lebih penting adalah Jawatankuasa Penyelaras Undang-undang dalam Jabatan Perdana Menteri dapat memulakan konsultasi dengan badan-badan ini supaya suara mangsa-survivor sumbang mahram turut didengari.

Ivy Josiah
Pengarah Eksekutif
Pertubuhan Pertolongan Wanita

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