Home / Blog / 2013 : Strong Family equals strong society

CRACKED and maybe a little chipped here and there but definitely not broken, that is how I would describe most of the families I know. In the spirit of the second National Family Day which falls tomorrow (the first Sunday of May), and in light of the very reason it was established, this article will touch on the important role the society plays in building and maintaining a healthy family.

In a titah made during the Eighth Legislative Council Session in 2012, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang DiPertuan of Brunei Darussalam also highlighted the significance of the family institution: ‘‘We should not neglect and forget about the role of the family institution (in national development).Without doubt, a happy and well-rounded family would be able to overcome various issues more effectively.’’

In the same titah, the monarch said this was the responsibility of everyone, and that agencies as well as grassroots leaders have a role to play in fortifying the family foundation.

Brunei Darussalam is a tiny country made up of close knit (and mighty extended) families. In short, we are one big family. And true to the old adage, when one member hurts, the others hurt too. At least, this is the ideal family way.

So when we read about cases of sexual abuse such as molestation, rape, incest, incestuous rape, particular those concerning underaged children, we gasp in horror. We feel saddened when we read about fathers raping daughters (there was a case where a father had raped two of his daughters!); a brother and sister caught in incestuous relations; and even a grandfather raping his own granddaughter.

Where is the love? For a moment we cannot even fathom the despicable act, then we eventually realise that it is real and it is probably happening  in the homes of someone we know. It is a painful topic to talk about but like ripping off an old bandaid, it must be done in order to let air (help) in for the wound to heal. For incest does not hit close to home, it happens right in the home.

Incestuous rape is the ultimate breach of trust thus it must be addressed for us to learn and become better as one big family. The punishment for incest, under Unnatural Offences Article 377A of the Penal Code, Chapter 22: ‘‘Whoever, being male and has sexual intercourse with a female who to his knowledge is his grandmother, granddaughter, daughter, sister, half-sister, or other is said to commit incest and shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years and with a fine.’’

This is also applicable to women who commit the same offence with their immediate family members. However, this does not apply to Muslim Malays or other indigenous races. For Muslim Malays, such cases are automatically referred to Syariah Court, but according to a previous report, incest involving minors (under12) is considered rape. In this case, the fate of the perpetrator would be determined by the Magistrates’Court.

The punishment for rape is imprisonment for a term of‘‘not less than eight years and not more than30 years and shall also be punished with whipping with not less than 12 strokes’’. These cases are just some of the things we read about in the papers but to the victims, this is their reality. And this is not acceptable family behaviour; not in Brunei Darussalam.

As a country that prides itself in being the Abode of Peace, we continuously strive to build an orderly society with members who are respectful and peaceful. Such destructive behaviours, if not contained, will eventually spread and disrupt social order.

In2007, 40 cases of incestuous rape involving victims under the age of 25 were reported from data collected since 1999. There were only four cases for 2007, although it jumped to 14 in2008, according to statistics from the Community Development Department (JAPEM) under the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

Meanwhile, statistics from the Women and Child Abuse Investigation Unit of the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) suggested a drop in the number of incest cases reported,witheightin2009 and four cases each in 2010 and2011(uptoOctober).The latest statistics from RBPFand JAPEM have not been released.

Since incest involving those under 12 is considered rape, the figures may not be a reliable indicator of the actual rate of incestuous rape cases; taking into account unreported cases and those that may be categorized underrape.Thestatisticsforrapecasesalonestoodat31 in 2009, 27 in 2010, and 15 in 2011 (up to October).

In previous interviews with The Brunei Times, Culture, Youth and Sports Deputy Minister Datin Paduka Hjh Adina Othman said such cases were prevalent among lower-class families and tend to be dysfunctional. Other contributing factors include divorced and/or unemployed parents, polygamous families and drug abuse.

Victims of incestuous rape can suffer from low-self esteem which may also lead to irresponsible sexual behaviour and promiscuity, said the deputy minister  who was the former director of JAPEM.

In a previous interview, Hjh SitiAynah Hj Md Yaakub, the current acting assistant director of JAPEM, also cited lack of religious morals and awareness as factors marring judgment.

Perpetrators who were mostly  fathers or grandfathers of the victims were often found to exhibit similar traits; they were dominant, aggressive in nature and had anger management issues.

There were also cases where siblings engaged in an incestuous relationship, after being exposed to pornographic materials. Being ignorant, the children did not regard their actions as being unnatural only to realise it was wrong later on.

Unwilling victims on the other hand often have to endure the painful torture, at times for years, before mustering the courage to finally confide in someone and seek help. Others may never reach this stage out of fear; some out of shame.

The wound has been inflicted and it will heal over time, but the scars remain. Counselling has been suggested for both victims and perpetrators, and proven to be effective in some cases. It is also seen as a way to mend relations between both parties.

‘‘Through counselling, we would be giving the abuser another chance to get his life back together with his family. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be fixed. We must try to ensure a strong, healthy family unit is kept together,’’ Hjh Aynah said.

She cited a case where a rape victim who grew up and found happiness in marriage, decided to forgive her father who was jailed for the offence. ‘‘They have been a tight family ever since.’’

What lessons can be derived from cases past?

1) Social values, religious morals, attitudes begin in the home, where parents are the primary agents of socialisation.

2) Education and empowerment are vital in tackling this sore issue. JAPEM has teamed up with the Ministry of Education, RBPF and also various agencies including civil society organisations and non-government organisations in conducting series of talks, seminars, roadshows to create awareness on social issues related to the family. They have visited schools and also reached out to villages.

However, all efforts are meaningless without support and reception from the target audience – the family members. To keep the sanctity of the family intact, we can no longer afford to keep saying,  ‘Whatever happensin the home, stays in the family.’’

Good or bad, what we do with and to our family is of national interest.

Perpetrators, including potential ones, must understand that offences like incest and rape carry heavy punishment and the effects of their crime can leave a negative and lasting impression on the victims. Meanwhile, children must be reassured and reminded that they are protected by the law, and there are people who care.

Taking heed of His Majesty’s  call, to move forward and upwards we need to adopt a united front and use top down an dbottom-upapproaches. We must educate and empower families (both parents and children) with knowledge.

A strong family equals a strong society with the power to direct the destiny of the nation. Let us continue to help each other build a family that is sakinah mawaddah arahmah (a family blessed with love peace and happiness), insyaAllah.

TheBruneiTimes

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