ABUSED and neglected children are getting the help they need from paediatrician Dr Ng Su Fang and her team at Sabah Women and Children Hospital in Likas, Kota Kinabalu.
She and her team make it their mission to help get justice for these young victims.
As head of the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) team at the hospital, Dr Ng believes more needs to be done to curb child abuse and neglect as the rise in the number of such cases indicated the public’s lack of awareness about their seriousness.
Established in 2008, SCAN are centralised, multidisciplinary teams in government hospitals that manage cases of children suspected of being abused.
The team usually comprises paediatricians, gynaecologists, mental health professionals, accident and emergency staff, forensic pathologists, nurses and medical social workers.
Should any of them suspect a child of suffering from any form of
abuse, whether sexual, physical, emotional or neglect, it would be relayed to the SCAN team.
Management of abused children is undertaken by the hospital’s One Stop Crisis Centre, where a child receives treatment as an inpatient or, if necessary, at a specialty clinic.
Dr Ng opines that the level of education and awareness among parents are key to preventing abuse.
She said she had even encountered instances where parents were unaware that their actions were abusive.
One of the more common examples of this is shaken baby syndrome.
It is a form of abuse where children, especially those younger than 6 months, suffer bruising, swelling and bleeding of the brain when forcefully shaken, as his or her fragile brain moves back and forth inside the skull.
Parents or caretakers sometimes shook crying babies too aggressively out of anger or stress, she said.
Dr Ng said cases of negligence she had encountered in the last 10 years as a paediatrician also baffled her.
“There was once a well-educated mother who left her infant child under the care of a 16-year-old boy as she worked in a different district.
“If it is already hard for a young mother to take care of her own child, how could she let a teenager assume the responsibility?”
The child ended up being abused and was brought to the hospital with bleeding in the brain.
“Cases like this are the result of the difficulty working parents face in trying to find reliable caretakers.
It is also hard for couples who don’t live with other family members.”
Dr Ng said SCAN would also assist in alerting the authorities, such as in lodging reports with the police.
“This is where we come in and help the children get justice against the people who abuse or neglect them.
“The team also works closely with welfare officers and child protectors who pay home visits.
“This helps in better understanding the dynamic and psychosocial background of the victims and their family,” she said.
Dr Ng said some of the challenges in trying to charge perpetrators who abuse minors included the fact that there were no witnesses or strong evidence.
She said in the past, a lack of evidence as well as relatives who failed to help the victims had hindered investigations.
Early intervention by SCAN is also important as many abused or neglected children rarely lead normal lives after the trauma they endured.
“There are those who end up needing medication for epilepsy, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and neurological problems .”
Dr Ng said the team had seen an increase in the number of child abuse cases. However, she also believed that a lot more cases were going unreported, especially in rural areas.
She said factors that contributed to abuse cases were working parents, unplanned pregnancies and poor parenting skills.
These issues, she said, could be tackled through creating greater awareness .
“This is where religious bodies or non-governmental organisations can help.
“They can help play a role in relaying information on how to prevent child abuse.
“Another approach to curb abuse would be through the implementation of stricter laws and educational programmes.”
Those found to have abused, neglected or abandoned children, or permits the child to be so abused, can be charged under Section 31 of the Child Act 2001.
If convicted, offenders face a fine of up to RM50,000 or 20 years’ jail, or both.