IPOH, Dec 27 — After enduring physical and mental abuse for about 10 years while living in a home for underprivileged children, a group of 12 girls finally spoke up. But now they are in danger of losing the very home that has given them some semblance of normalcy… despite the alleged abuse.
The girls, aged between seven to 18, live in Kaakum Karangal (Tamil for “Caring Hands”) located in the middle-class Lim Garden neighbourhood of Ipoh.
They study at the Tarcisian Convent primary and secondary schools which are just walking distance away and largely regarded as one of Ipoh’s more prominent schools.
The home, established in 2002, is funded by the Society of Caring Hands Ipoh, an NGO comprising successful and respected Indian businessmen, retired top civil servants, and other highly-regarded professionals from Ipoh.
But earlier this year, an unexpected turn of events caused the previously passive members of the society to look closely at how the home was run, which later brought to light allegations of both physical and mental abuse.
Apparently the abuse was allegedly committed by the deputy manager of the home, the wife of the society’s founding president until his recent removal.
Both the president, who is a surgeon, and his wife, have declined to comment so their names have been withheld pending a response.
“When I was seven or eight years old, I did something wrong… but I don’t remember what. She brought me to her house and there was a dog, [she set] the dog to chase me, and I had to run all over the house,” one of the girls, now 17, recalls.
The deputy manager was mostly in charge of the home’s daily affairs as it was an all girls’ home.
According to the girls, whose names have been withheld to protect their identities, there was constant monitoring of their activities using a closed circuit television (CCTV) network. They were allegedly beaten if certain instructions were not followed.
Some of these instructions include no talking to each other in the common area, and no afternoon naps. According to some of the girls, they only spoke to each other on the walk back home after school, or in their respective rooms.
“She will come with a list of things the kids have done, according to the do’s and dont’s that have already been given. And she will bring them one by one into the room to beat them,” said one of the caretakers at the home who did not want to be named.
The children referred to the deputy manager as “Datin”, and much of the abuse, according to them, took place at the latter’s own private home, some 15 minutes from the home.
When she beats the children at the home, the CCTV recordings are erased a week later.
One of the girls claimed that she was flung from a standing position on top of a chair. She hit the edge of a bed, causing a gash in the forehead… the scar is still visible two years later. She was only five years old when the incident took place.
One girl was locked inside a cage with a dog which then bit her. Another told of being starved overnight at the deputy manager’s house and also being ordered not to sleep as punishment for tampering with a CCTV camera. She was also asked to do house chores at the deputy manager’s house before being dropped back at the home.
The girls tried a few times to complain or get help. When they complained to tuition teachers employed by the society to teach the children, the complaint would reach the deputy manager who then meted out punishment on the girls for speaking up.
When the matter came to the attention of teachers in their school, a complaint filed to the Welfare Department in 2012 resulted in a short visit by officials, but no action was taken.
The abuse came to light when, earlier this year, one of the board members in the society asked a child psychologist to conduct a private evaluation of the children.
The evaluation resulted in a damning report that exposed the exhaustive list of abuses suffered by the children. A verbal presentation was made in April, but when the society’s president played down the allegations, a written report was prepared in June for members of the society.
The society secretary, Dr Subramaniam Suppiah, a doctor based in Ipoh, then decided to lodge a police report on June 11 this year, basing his report on the child psychologist’s report.
He had also written a letter to the Chief Police Officer (CPO) of Perak but has yet to receive any news. Despite several attempts by Malay Mail Online, the police have not responded to a request for an update of the investigations.
“They did come to the home the very night the report was made and they saw the children, and said they don’t see any marks. I told them, of course, because this abuse happened over a period of 12 years,” he said.
Dr Subramaniam wants those responsible to be held accountable for their actions though the children are no longer under the previous caretakers.
“I just want the law to take its course,” he said.
The deputy manager of the home was reassigned tasks within the society following the psychiatrist’s report. She no longer has direct supervision of the home.
Both her husband and her have also had their memberships suspended in September, allowing the society to be managed by the rest of the members.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun meanwhile said that the police are still investigating the allegations.
“Observation and interviews by Perak Welfare Department officials and Kinta district welfare officials on Dec 20 showed that the children are happy and comfortable,” she said in a text message.
However, the girls, who are all in school except one, who is doing a hairdressing course funded by the society, might lose their home if a dispute that involves a trust fund and the property on which the home is established is not settled soon.
Another NGO, allegedly linked to the former president of the society, has claimed rights to the property on which the home currently sits, and the matter is currently in court.
The license for the society and home to continue operating expires at the end of this year.
In a letter one month ago, the Perak Welfare Department told the society that the home would not be registered next year unless the dispute is resolved, warning the home that continuous operation beyond the expiry date would be a violation of the Care Centres Act 1993.
Until then, the girls live in a state of limbo. They finally are safe from the alleged abuse but now might lose everything.