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Child Protection Issues: Incest—the Malaysian Scenario

[ Vol. 4 , Issue. 4 ]


Susan M. K. Tan, Suriati Mohamed Saini, Lee Voon Yee, Suzaily Wahab, Lai Fong Chan, Siti Haidah Mohd Ijam and Norazlin Kamal Nor   Pages 225 - 232 ( 8 )


Background/Objectives: Incest is increasingly being recognized as a problem in Malaysia, but advocacy and optimal recovery is hampered by stigma and culture. The majority of victims are females, violated before age 18, usually by their own biological fathers. Alarmingly, brother-sister incest is also increasing. The family is no longer a safe haven for children:

Methods: This article highlights the problems associated with incest in Malaysia. Two case examples are used to illustrate the difficulties faced by adolescent victims who disclose their abuse.

Results: Secrecy and denial are coping strategies of the family to protect the family name, thus protecting the perpetuator from any legal action and promoting recidivism. Often, with the blame conveniently shifted from perpetuator to victim, the innocent child is re-victimized and transformed into ‘the problem child’ by the family. After the severe psychological trauma of sexual abuse by a trusted relative, the victim spirals downward into depression, re-victimization and stigmatization resulting in increasing dysfunction, suboptimal academic achievement and subsequent loss of other opportunities in life. Legal redress is hampered with the existence of more than one legal system with areas of overlapping jurisdiction.

Conclusions: Malaysia, a modern developing country, faces major obstacles in advocacy and intervention of incest victims due to strong negative cultural influences and problems with the legal system. However optimal and timely intervention and supportive attachment relationships help victims heal from the toxic stress of the sexual abuse. The adolescent thus builds resilience, attains self-actualization and transcends from being a victim of incest to becoming a survivor.


Adolescents, depression, incest, psychological trauma, revictimization, survivor.


Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre, Jalan Yaacob Latif, Bandar Tun Razak, 56000 Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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