By Amanah Nurish –
As child sexual abuse scandals surfaced in an elite and prestigious international school in Jakarta recently, more public concerns are put on child’s security towards sexual child predators.
Tailing the conspicuous scandals, most parents are anxieties. A so-called phenomenon of moral panic emerged; resulted in pointing marginal sub-communities with public wrath and allegations. The growing public topic now is to associate gay with sexual child predators or the pedophiles. One erroneous belief is that an interest in children is part of homosexual orientation. However, it is interesting to see what Edward L. Rowan’s noted on his book Understanding Child Sexual Abuse (2006). Rowan noticed that no single formulation in understanding why some adults have sex with some children. Surprisingly, both men and women may be abusers and they may be so for different reasons.
Southeast Asia region is shockingly home for sexual child predators. Thailand, in the first place, has a reputation for engaging in one of the largest child sex trade operations in Southeast Asia, the hotbed of sex tourism, attracting pedophiles to travel away from their home to take advantage of vulnerable children in Southeast Asia. These abusers might gain access on children through child prostitution as UNICEF estimates the number of local children involved in prostitution by trafficking to be about 200,000 people.
A revealing TV show, BBC documentary (broadcasted on 30th January, 2011), also highlighted inescapable problems of child sex abuse by, predominantly, western ex-pats in Southeast Asia. Focusing on Cambodian children, numerous western men were flock to Cambodia with the confidence that they could sexually abuse children with impunity as Cambodian local police and judiciary were less heartened to confront sex crimes. Dolefully, parents are likewise indirectly put their children into this harm as often parents are forced or fooled into handing their children over to strangers.
However, laws on child’s protection towards sexual abuses are strengthening in our close neighboring nations: the four Greater Mekong sub-region countries, including Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For instance, in the last 2012, UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), in partnership with Interpol, accelerated legal frameworks and law enforcement in protecting children from sex offenders.
In Cambodia and Thailand, many of recognized pedophiles were not only the tourists; they also worked in local schools. Often the predators use tourism or education-related services to facilitate their contact with children. In Thailand since the last few years, followed by Cambodia, laws on child’s protection have been legislated as an effort to end any child’s sexual abuses, and accordingly, several western men has been arrested in this country. Another step is that the Thai government has also began to compound any work permits for farang (Thai term to call a foreigner) to teach English in any resident schools, as men like John Mark Karr and Christopher Neil, both were previously English teachers, were arrested as pedophiles in Thailand and straightaway deported. Karr was even once worked as a notable teacher in one of the Thai elite schools.
As one form of child protection at school, foreigners who wish to teach in Thailand are now required to get certified background checks from law enforcement in their own country before they are granted a work permit. Local police also regularly checks of school, asking foreign teachers for work permits, teacher certification, and university degrees in aiming to protect Thai children from in-disguised pedophiles. We can now perceive back to our child sexual abuse matter and ask, have all our educational institutions working on this strategy?
In a more global view, since the mid-1970’s the United States has been conducting sexual abuse prevention program offered to millions of children in thousands schools throughout the country, particularly to children in pre-school and the early elementary grades. According to Neil Gilbert (1991), lessons on child’s sexual abuses prevention program must be focused on prevention concepts that involve teaching children about private parts of the body, children’s rights, stranger avoidance, good and bad secrets, verbal assertiveness, and in some cases, physical self-defense, and inappropriate physical contact.
Nevertheless, a greater effort to protect children from sexual predators is coming from the children’s own home by parents’ personal safety lesson that conveys a strong message about respecting children’s own privacy and encouraging their autonomy, especially on developing a sense of physical boundaries, control their own body, and simply learn to say “no” assertively to other adults in their lives.
Cultural relativism may take a pivotal part in defining “good” parenting style in protecting children from sexual threats. According to a research conducted by the University of Arizona lately, there are at least two common cultural parenting styles; first, an authoritative parenting style by stressing two behaviors on high supporting (hugging and praising children) with low control (setting clear expectations and limits). This style can be applied to display closeness by giving the children trusts. Second, an authoritarian parenting style by showing low supporting (appear very strict) and high control (tightly monitor the children). This style can also be applied to assure parents’ total protection to the children.
Looking back to sexual abuse cases on Indonesian children at public school, parents still have ways and lessons to safeguard their young children. Countless children around the world have been fallen to sexual predators. However, prevention action should be chosen in the first place through improving the attentiveness of parents themselves, teachers, and other responsible caretakers to underline adult responsibility for children.
* The writer is a Ph. D candidate at Indonesian consortium for religious studies (ICRS) as well as research fellow at ENITS program of Thai Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok – Thailand.