Sunday, January 19, 2014

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry must ensure children’s welfare and speed up the trial process

19 January 2014, Press Statement by MCA Vice-President Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun
The move by the Swedish government in detaining the Malaysian director of Tourism Malaysia Azizul Raheem Awalludin and his wife Shalwati Nurshal for a month after they had beaten their son’s hand for not performing his prayers, and are now being detained for another 2 weeks while awaiting for the court to hear their case is shocking and a great cause of concern to the MCA Social Development Committee.
It is to my understanding that the couple was detained by the authorities on 18 December 2013, and that Azizul and Shalwati have been living Sweden with their 4 children for 3 years. Sweden is known to be the first country to have strict prohibitions against corporal punishment for children and that any form of spanking, slapping, pinching, hair-pulling and caning are considered illegal. It was also reported that the couple had allegedly slapped the hand of one of their sons for not performing his prayers, and although the son’s hand bore no marks or bruises, his depressed mood had led to his revealing what happened to his school teacher, who had then informed the school counsellor who lodged a police report thus causing the parents to be detained and their children taken away. 
Although the Swedish “Act on The Children and Parents Code” does not carry any provisions for punishment, but the parents could still be punished under Section 5 of the Swedish Penal Code for 6 months to 10 years depending on the seriousness of their fault. It was also reported that in November 2010, a Swedish district court had fined a couple $10, 650 (RM35,101) and jailed them for 9 months for using spanking as a means to discipline their children. 
The Swedish authorities have also currently placed the couple’s 14-year old daughter, and their three sons aged 12, 11 and 7 with a non-Muslim family. Besides that, the children are also reported to be unhappy each time they come home from school as their parents are not around them anymore. In addition, although the children are being provided with halal food, but they still feel uncomfortable because their foster family keeps a dog and that they have to share the same crockery and utensils. The children are also not permitted to meet with their relatives who had flown all the way from Malaysia to Sweden.
Now, although we fully respect Sweden’s laws and understand their need to protect the safety of their children, we cannot accept that a family has been forcibly separated over what can be considered a minor physical punishment. Besides that, the decision to put the children with a non-Muslim foster family shows a lack of religious sensitivity by the Swedish government, and barring the children from meeting their relatives is simply inhuman.
More than 2 weeks have passed with no progress in this issue, as we sincerely hope that the Malaysian Foreign Ministry will perform their task in ensuring the children’s’ welfare by taking immediate steps to allow them their rights to meet with their relatives and parents. We also hope that the Malaysian embassy in Sweden will work towards taking care of the children or identifying a Muslim foster family for the children to stay with in order to protect the religious rights and needs of the children. At the same time, we also urge the Malaysian government to seek an appropriate conduit to bail out the children’s’ parents and to urge Sweden to conduct the trial as soon as possible. 
Considering that in Swedish law the parents will lose custody of their children even if the parents are acquitted, and that an application must be filed with the court to reclaim custody and get their children back, I hope that the Malaysian government will work out a solution from the legal perspective for the family. Although we understand that the Swedish authorities are acting based on their own laws, but the rights of children to meet with their relatives must be ensured. As a child’s welfare and interest is the government’s responsibility, and in this incident has clearly resulted due to different cultures and understanding of laws, we hope that the Malaysian government can handle this issue based on the children’s basic rights to meet with their relatives.  
We also hope that the Malaysian Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development will take the lead by setting up a special task force and to send their personnel to follow the developments in Sweden. They should also work together with the Foreign Ministry to provide the Malaysian embassy with professional guidance and assistance. A child’s welfare cannot be compromised and an immediate solution should be reached for this issue instead of continuing to delay it.
Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun
MCA Vice-President
Chairman of MCA Social Development Committee

No comments: