On December 18th last year, a Malaysian Tourism official in Stockholm, Azizul Raheem Awaluddin and his wife, a teacher on unpaid leave, Salwati Nurshall were arrested by police for allegedly abusing their children. [Read Swedish news in English in The Local here.]
It became news in Malaysia in the middle of January when mainstream media headlined it as parents arrested for spanking children refusing to pray. It is a practise in traditional Malay households to judiciously punish kids above 9 years old for refusing to do their five times a day.
The public was concerned for the children welfare. The Malay Muslims were not happy to see the children placed with a non-Muslim Swedish foster family. It reminded them of the horrifying end to Mathematical child prodigy, Sufiah Yusoof to the Pakistani-Malay couple in Britain. [Read back here]
There is rumour going around of the existence of syndicate in Sweden taking away children of Muslim families by detaining the parents for investigation under child abuse.
The children are back here and media reported government giving all necessary support but a question remained unanswered from the day the news broke. Was it merely a spanking or real abuse done on the four children; Aishah, 14, Ammar, 12, Adam, 11 and Arif, 7.
The public concern reached the Prime Minister's office and Datin Rosmah openly expressed willingness to meet the Queen of Sweden to get the children back.
However, the foreign office, and welfare department successfully engaged the Swedish authority to get the children back to return and live with their auntie in Kelantan. Upon arrival, they were taken to the Prime Minister's residence for lunch.
What was all this about?
AFP report here claimed local media reported the couple had "allegedly scolded and hit their youngest son on the arm for not performing his prayers".
The Local wrote:
Malaysian newspaper The Star reported that the police report stems from an incident in which the Muslim couple struck their 12-year-old son on the hands for refusing to perform his prayers.NST reported;
The boy told his teachers in Stockholm about the incident, which was then passed along to the school's counselors, who in turn notified police. It has been illegal in Sweden for parents physically punish their children since the late 1970s.
A day later, authorities arrested the parents and placed the children in foster care while their parents await trial, The Star reported.
It was reported that a Swedish Court had extended the remand order against the children’s father, Azizul Raheem Awalludin, who is Tourism Malaysia officer in Sweden, to facilitate probe into the allegation.The couple are viewed by the prosecutor as a "flight risk."
The remand order against Azizul, which was the fourth time since his arrest on Dec 18, was extended to another 11 days until February 10.
The Swedish Court had also obtained a remand order against Azizul’s wife, Salwati Norshal, until February 10.
The detention over a long time and thrice remanded to await investigation attracted the concern of human rights activists. They equated it to detention without trial. The Star columnist, Veera Pandiyan described it as a "travesty of justice".
AFP also reported that a Facebook page, titled "Bring Shal and Family Home" was established to lobby for the parents' release. It received more than 17,000 "likes".
Nevertheless, Dato Najib was right to express concern for the welfare of the three children. Their welfare should be the foremost consideration.
In a Bernama report here, the Welfare Department (JKM) spokesperson, Dr Noorul Aini explained that the welfare of the children as stipulated by article 3 and 20 on the Convention on the Rights of the Child as rectified by both Malaysia and Sweden in 1995 enabled their return.
JKM will also provide counseling for the children
Having personally gone through the ordeal of a child abuse case in Malaysia, we reserve our comment and judgement of the Swede till the matter of whether child abuse and not merely a warning spank is established.
JKM and their interpretation and practise of the child protection law and regulation practices had systematically failed to protect abused children.
In our experience, the Welfare Department made a serious misjudgement for buying into the father's simplistic words of family quarrel and seemingly did not take into considering the children welfare and upbringing as of utmost importance.
The children of a deceased mother returned to the abusive father and their stepmother instead of giving the guardianship to either the two grandmothers or willing sisters to their deceased mother.
The father's erratic burst of temper and abusive tendency remained. As recent as last year, the teenage daughter was slapped for merely being persistent in getting signed permission to join the school camping trip.
Poor parenting skills and lack of supervision resulted in two of the three children failure at secondary education level. The third child is scholastically capable and entered a hostel but is now being denied quality education. Forget about proper parental care and guidance.
In our view and perhaps the view of family members in the know too, the rather paranoid attitude of Swedish authority is more welcoming than the "tidak apa" and prejudicial attitude of JKM and the whole system.
In an incident in the past, the government hospital had a pre-conception in their enquiry of the complainant and was obviously bias and one sided.
The matter had been highlighted to the Minister in charge through a letter via the political secretary, Dr Abdul Razak but to no avail. Even a request for an appointment to explain the situation was denied but the request of the abused children's grandfather for the abusive father was entertained.
In the Swedish incident, the couple may look loving and pious. The fact that the mother is a school teacher indicate no similarity in the background with our case.
However, similar to our case, looks can be deceiving. The public exterior of a person may be hiding the demon in them. Quite often, religiously strict parents can be unnecessarily stern.
Still we are neither passing judgement on the children's parents nor assuming they are innocent.
From the Prime Minister's statement, the government is giving the couple legal support. It is probably part of Tourism Malaysia's renumeration package for their staff posted abroad.
If there is none since it is a personal offense, our government is confident of the case and willing to support the couple legally.
Is the government judgement based on the view of JKM officers sent overseas? Hopefully, their judgement is better now than 11 years ago because we are still feeling the misery, agony and frustration of their failed analysis and recommendation to a Magistrate in Kajang.
According to The Local, the couple are being held on remand on suspicion of gross violation of integrity for incidences that took place between June 2011 and December 2013. There is a lot of material to be made into a legal case.
Our prejudiced suspicion is that the JKM officials sent to Sweden could be sentimentally swayed by media headline that children were hit for missing prayers.
They could be possibly biased to save their fellow government officer and teacher rather than be more concerned for the children. Same like in our case of them being sentimental swayed by the father's hocus pocus family conspiracy concocted.
Safeguard for children
If found guilty, the couple run the risk of being sentenced up to 10 years in Swedish prison.
In their website here, Astro AWANI’s Magazine Editor, Zan Azlee was reported to have been told by a Chief Judge and lawyer in their recent trip to Sweden that out of 10,000 cases, the chances of the children returning to their abusive parents is 10%.
The case has not started and is still under investigation. Swedish law allows their remand order renewed to await investigation and if exist a case, charged in court.
There have been demonstration and memorandum letter sent to the Swedish Embassy. However, Malaysians should not be emotional on this issue till the matter is understood.
If it is the law of their land, it has to be respected accordingly. Without diplomatic passport and immunity, they should know and understand the law and practices of the country.
This is something our embassy should do to assist Malaysian abroad but they don't. Having been abroad before, our Embassies noticeably are staffed by mediocre who are more interested to use the overseas opportunity to save-up their additional income from overseas allowance.
They take things easy and are hardly much assistance to Malaysians in dire needs abroad. My youngest brother in Toronto had to assist Malaysian stuck in Canada during 911 because our Ottawa Embassy plainly don't care!
To the noise of human right activists in Malaysia, who are they?
Sweden is a country that is far more embracing of human rights than Malaysia. If it sounds draconian for keeping child abusers behind bar, then so be it. It is a good basis to put as law to safeguard children.
Ignore them because they are not quite genuinely concerned for human rights but are usually politically motivated and partisan. In the pursuit of political mileage, the likes of Latheefa Koya and N Surendran are more concerned with defending known criminals and murderers than public safety at large. Let alone the rights, welfare and safety of children.
Through this Swedish ordeal, JKM should learn a thing or two on how much concern and importance a western country gave to the welfare and safety of their children. It is more important than the personal liberty of the parents or alleged abuser.
Not like our case of the JKM officer that was gullible to father's concocted story and easily returned the children back to the abusive father.
Till the court commence sometime in February, there is nothing to confirm or disapprove abuse had taken place. Be it Malaysia or Sweden, let the investigation and law takes it's due process.
* Edited and updated 4/2 7:30 AM