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A travesty of universal justice

Publication Date : 30-01-2014

 

By today, it will be a month and 11 days in detention without trial for Azizul Raheem Awaluddin and Shalwati Nurshal.

The Tourism Malaysia director and his wife, a teacher, are being detained separately for the alleged crime of punishing one of their four children.

Apparently, Shalwati had hit her 12-year-old son on the hand for not performing his prayers and given him a severe scolding.

Tough love is considered a serious crime in Sweden, which explicitly banned all forms of corporal punishment of children 35 years ago.

Parents or guardians who spank, slap, whip, pull the hair of a child or grab him or her by the scruff of the neck are liable to be jailed for between six months and 10 years if convicted.

Sweden is often touted as a paragon of human rights but there are serious flaws in its system of justice — like the lack of a bail system.

Suspected offenders can be held in custody until the trial is over. Before that, they can be remanded for an unspecified length of time.

How long does it take to investigate an alleged crime of spanking a child? A week? Two weeks? A month?

Azizul and Shalwati have had their remand extended thrice so far.

Immediately after their arrest, their children were taken away from their home and placed in a non-Muslim foster home, where they are still staying rather unhappily.

According to the latest report from Stockholm, they will be sent to live with a Malaysian Muslim family this week.

Three years ago, an Italian politician was fined 6,600 kronors (US$1,207) by a Swedish court, which found him guilty of assaulting his 12-year-old son.

Giovanni Colasante, who was on holiday with his family at the time, had pulled his son by the hair after the boy refused to go into a restaurant and insisted on eating elsewhere.

In the case of Colasante, he only spent three days in remand before the trial, which sparked a heated debate in both Italy and Sweden.

The extended remand of Azizul and Shalwati is a travesty of universal justice. If it was the case of Malaysian authorities holding a European couple without trial for a month, there would no doubt be a huge outcry.

Under Swedish law, Azizul and his wife risk losing their kids even if they are found not guilty.

To reclaim custody, they would need to go through the process of applying to the administrative court which handles such cases.

The Malaysian couple appear to be the latest victims of what the Nordic Committee for Human Rights (NCHR) refers to as the “child care and abduction industry” in Sweden.

Two years ago, the NCHR’s steering committee, comprising former judges, law professors, doctors and psychologists, submitted a detailed report on child removal cases in Sweden and neighbouring Nordic countries to the Council of Europe.

The panel urged the council’s secretary-general Thorbjorn Jagland and the European Parliament to conduct a thorough probe into the “very prevalent and destructive” child removal cases.

Part of its report read: “From our experiences, it appears that mostly young, sole parent families, economically and educationally weaker families, those with health challenges and immigrant parents are targeted by the social services in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

“Also, parents with religious and philosophical beliefs that do not seem to be politically accepted are often deemed as unsuitable parents, which invariably leads the social councils, acting upon the advice of the social workers, to remove the children from their families and place them in foster homes.”

The NCHR has called it the “child care and abduction industry” due to the large sums of money paid to foster parents and “child abuse and family destruction industry”, because the children and their parents were invariably traumatised.

If it is indeed an industry, Nordic countries don’t hold the monopoly. In the United States, there is also an active movement against abuse of the Child Protective Services (CPS).

A recent petition sent to Congress by 8,000 people highlighted the continued violations of their civil rights by the CPS and the family court system.

It underlined the corruption in the system and blamed the authorities for not following guidelines by placing children with relatives but screening them out to foster families using different criteria, falsifying documents to entrap parents and removing children without due process.

One of the most strident voices against CPS corruption and abuse was Nancy Schaefer, a former senator from Georgia in the United States.

Four years ago, she and her husband Bruce were found dead with gunshot wounds in their home.

The official story was that it was a murder-suicide. Investigators concluded that Bruce had shot her in the back and then shot himself in the chest. She was 73 and he was 74.

Critics of the CPS, who suspect that she was murdered for her continued pursuit of exposing abuse in the system, have not given up on the case.

Three years before her death, she wrote a damning report based on 300 cases which she had handled.

Noting that poor parents were targeted to lose their children because they did not have the means to hire lawyers to fight the system, she accused social workers of fraud and withholding or fabricating evidence to terminate parental rights.

It’s a shame that such transgressions and abuse are ignored by the usually vociferous champions of human rights.

 

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