OPINION: The Datuk and his babies: Let justice prevail

Date: 2010-08-14
Source: Borneo Post

August 14, 2010, Saturday

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Siti (name has been changed) has had a happy and fulfilling life ever since she was born. She has almost everything a child her age would crave for — loving parents; kind, understanding and affectionate siblings; a nice home in a Kuching suburb and a sound education.Siti’s world was shattered (hopefully temporarily) when she was sent to live in a children’s home run by the Welfare Department last month, after she was suspected of being a ‘victim’ of an alleged baby trafficking syndicate. At the time of writing, Siti is still in the home together with her three siblings, and is unsure when she can return home to her parents and continue her studies.

The problem is that Siti is not the biological child of the only parents she has known for the past 12 years of her young life. She was adopted by them. (Since the case is still pending in court and the suspects remain as suspects with no charge filed yet, we will just refer to her parents as Datuk and Datin S.)

On July 15, the public woke up to the rude shock of reading newspaper reports that a Datuk and Datin were nabbed by the police for alleged involvement in baby trafficking. ‘Kids rescued’, ‘Suspected baby-sellers arrested’, ‘Datuk, wife and six others held in baby trafficking case’ were some of the media headlines which greeted readers that morning.

Not surprisingly, the press reports immediately put the Datuk and his wife in a bad light. It cast aspersions on their characters, especially in a crime as serious as trafficking and selling babies. Most of us would not be able to comprehend how some people would stoop to the level of making a profit from the sale of infants. This is a most despicable act.

But there is an important question left unanswered. Is it true that Datuk S and his wife were involved in such a crime? If it is proven that they are guilty, then they deserve to face the full force of the law. But what if they are not?

This is the issue which must be addressed by the authorities — the court, police, AG’s Chambers and the Welfare Department.

I happened to be in Kuching as the case developed over the past two weeks. It intrigues me because it is a high-profile case. Trafficking of babies is not an ordinary crime that occurs in Sarawak every few days.

That a Datuk was alleged to be involved makes it even more ‘extraordinary’.

Here I have to state that I am mindful of the fact that with the thousands of Datuks around these days, it is not surprising to hear of them being involved in criminal activities. There are Datuks involved in illegal gambling, loan sharking, drug trafficking, bribing government officials and even murder. Hah, now we also have a Tun being charged for cheating the government. So what else is new?

However, to stay close to the Kuching case, I did a little investigation and asked those who know Datuk S and his family well for feedback. The following account is what was revealed to me this week and my personal comments on the case.

Datuk S is from a prominent Kuching family. He can be considered well-to-do with inherited assets as well as a thriving car dealership and other businesses of his own.

He was an active politician in his younger days, but has now retired because of his advancing years.

One of his associates told me: “Who would believe that Datuk, being blessed with such a fortunate life, would have to make money via baby trafficking? It is just not possible!

“In fact, Datuk has a generous trait in him. He would organise Buka Puasa for orphans during Ramadan and host Chinese New Year gatherings at Old Folks homes on a regular basis. He has also donated generously to charitable organisations and other worthy causes.”

Another confided in me, “Datuk and his wife just love children and it is true that they had adopted four children, showered them with love and affection, gave them a warm home and (in the case of Siti) a good education as well.”

I do not doubt the credibility of my sources for they are longtime friends of mine as well as people who have known Datuk S for years.

I think all of us would be glad to hear heart-warming stories of children born into difficult circumstances living a happy and fulfilling life with their adoptive parents. It would certainly be in the best interests of the children if an adoptive family can provide a better life for them.

Interestingly, this Kuching case erupted at the same time as the Melaka government’s decision to have a special school for pregnant students who are unwed. This came about because of the alarming cases of baby dumping in the state. The aim is to allow students who become pregnant to continue their studies as well as to counsel and prepare them and their boyfriends for their responsibilities as parents.

I would have thought that if there are more people like Datuk and Datin S around us who love children and are ever willing to adopt such babies, there would be no necessity for Melaka to build such a school. And possibly, we would hear of less cases of baby dumping too.

Back to the Datuk’s case in Kuching. I am left puzzled by a few incidents. If some parties have erred in any way in handling the case, it is their duty to rectify them. There is no shame in admitting where we have gone wrong and if a system is not running as efficient as it should be, then it is our responsibility to put things right. At least, this will ensure that justice is accorded to all facing similar predicaments in future.

Firstly, it is puzzling as to how the first case of the foreign woman allegedly attempting to sell a baby to undercover cops for RM10,000 in Batu Kawah is linked to the case of Datuk S’ adoption of four children. (It was not five as originally reported as one of the kids was certified to be the biological son of Datuk’s stepson and has been returned to the family.)

If it was a totally different case and had nothing to do with the Datuk’s adoption of his four children, why have the media reports implied such a link? Did the police feed the wrong information to the press? Did the crime reporters ask enough questions to ensure that the information provided by the police was accurate?

To the readers, the stories in the newspapers implied that Datuk S and his wife were allegedly involved in the purported sale of the first three babies reported and that they were suspects in a purported baby-selling racket.

I feel that there is a missing link somewhere in the earlier reports and this has to be rectified. Until and unless the police can prove there is a link, I think an injustice has been done to Datuk S and his family.

Secondly, I think it is not right to put a Datuk in a rather uncomfortable common cell together with others (who could be hardened criminals) when he is only a mere suspect on remand. Of course, when a VIP has been convicted of a crime, you can put him under solitary confinement in a dungeon for all I care. But until then, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and must be treated as such.

I understand that the police treated Datuk S well when he was on remand for nine days but to disallow him access to his lawyers and family members over that long period may not have been necessary. I feel the police should exercise more compassion with suspects on remand. I do not have to remind the police of the numerous reports of brutality and deaths in police custody. At least, accord a senior citizen the respect and compassion due to him as a human being.

My third poser is for the Welfare Department. Datuk’s four adopted children, including Siti, are being placed under the department’s custody until Aug 26. That would be more than 40 days. Why was such a long period necessary for the department to do what they have to do to sort things out at their end? Would applying de facto adoption under Section 8 of the Adoption Act 1952 hasten the process?

In the case of Siti, she has missed school for more than a month. Her UPSR is next month. Have her educational needs been taken care of at the children’s home?

These are valid questions which must be answered by the authorities concerned.

Let me say this again. If Datuk S and his wife are found guilty of baby trafficking, punish them by all means. But until and unless guilt is proven, there is nothing much that can compensate them for the humiliation and agony they have suffered as a result of their compassion and love for children and their genuine desire to give four children a better life and future.

All of us, law abiding citizens and God-fearing people, believe that the truth will be told in the end and that justice must prevail.

In this case, the sooner the better.

Comments can reach the writer at paulsir99@hotmail.com

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