A disturbing picture of abuse: cracked skull and bruises on the forehead of a 10-month-old baby discovered on July 19.

WHILE it can take many forms and dress itself in various contexts, one thing remains certain: people who hurt children are themselves wounded inside.

Shocks swept the entire Malay-sian nation last month when a newborn baby boy was found severely injured after being thrown out of a two-storey building in Kajang.

A five-month baby was later reported missing by his parents for eight days, only to be found dead in his babysitter’s freezer, his head displaying bloody signs of a cruel blow.

And as if there wasn’t enough disheartenment to deal with already, news broke on social media reporting the child marriage of an 11-year-old Thai girl to a 41-year-old Malaysian man.

These three situations may be different in the details but each is powered by the same underlying theme of struggle displayed by the adults involved.

The destructive dynamics, in turn, suggest undetected and very much unaddressed psychological problems, developed from deep-rooted childhood traumas.

Research has shown that people who physically, mentally, or emotionally mistreat and manipulate children are those whose own formative years were fraught with abuse.

How many more wounded or dead children must it take for us to realise that there is a cycle of abuse to be aware of and break?

Time to turn on our radar.

I would like to reiterate that it does not matter whether the offender is the parent or a trusted caregiver of a wounded child. A spade is a spade, no matter its design.

So dead or alive, if the child’s wellbeing, health or social freedom has been intentionally disrupted, then child abuse is clearly at hand, in which case his abuser must not only be held accountable but also subjected to extensive mental evaluation.

If we are to solve this menace that constantly plagues our society we need to better understand the human psyche.

There seems to be a severe lack of mental health awareness around, as evident in the stigmatisation of mental illness as well as the shortage of trained psychologists in the country.

It comes as no surprise, then, that mental health checkups does not go down well with many people, including those predisposed to mental illnesses.

It is likely that child abusers unconsciously cope with reminders of their past powerlessness by replaying the role of their oppressors, akin to the way trauma sufferers would turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or violence to temporarily relieve their painful memories.

As a father myself, it really scares me to think that there are adults out there who would not think twice to strip a kid of his freedom to live.

And it truly feels like we are only cracking the surface here, because who knows how many more unreported cases of child abuse are out there?

Time to stop relying on luck.

I believe the easiest way for Malaysians from all layers of society to do their part in this issue is to never lose sight of their emotions.

A child abuser is, after all, a person whose ‘inner child’ has been severely wounded, and we all know that deep down, damaged people damage other people.

With this in mind, those of us who are parents, caregivers, or educators simply cannot afford to assume that our pains are not inherited by the children in our lives, or that everything is fine outside our guarded watch.

To end child abuse, we cannot simply rely on chance. We need to more as a society of Malaysians. We must act as a community of people.

That the Kajang restaurant patron, the Malaysian police force, and social media exposure were instrumental in the discoveries of these aforementioned child abuse cases point to a stroke of luck.

But luck alone does not guarantee the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of our young which, taken for granted, fuels the continuity of abuse, pain, and suffering.

Our New Malaysia deserves better than that — and it all starts with our minds.

The writer is News Editor (Weekend/Probe/Special Report), New Straits Times

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