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12:55pm 20/04/2022
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Is it the law, or an angry public backed by royalty, which will ensure justice for Bella and her abuser?
By:Mariam Mokhtar

For every Bella whose ordeal was exposed, are there many other ‘Bellas’ in residential care homes or private residences who remain undiscovered?

If their ordeal is eventually revealed, will they be given the same unrelenting attention from VVIPs and a wide cross section of society, as Bella has received?

Today, the high profile case involving Bella, who has Down’s Syndrome, and the alleged neglect and abuse by her care home owner has taken over Malaysia by storm.

As such, the position of Rina Harun, the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, is untenable.

Bella, the 13-year-old girl with Down’s has allegedly been physically and mentally abused over several months by Siti Bainun Ahmad Razali, the founder of the Rumah Bonda welfare home.

Over several months, Siti Bainun ordered that Bella be fed rotten meat and be given food laced with chilies, vinegar, salt, turmeric and soy sauce.

She was splashed with hot water, was stripped naked, and forced to kneel, then kicked in the stomach.

The trial has only just begun.

Bella’s ordeal was not made public last week nor last month. It was exposed in July 2021, and ever since then, Rina has failed to protect the teenager.

Despite several queries by NGOs and concerned citizens for the minister to act promptly, either to demand a change in the law or if necessary, to enact new laws to better protect special needs children, Rina dragged her heels and did nothing.

She should relinquish her post by resigning, and hand over the responsibility to someone who is more capable, failing which Prime Minister Ismail Sabri should sack her.

Rina did not fulfill her responsibility as the minister in charge of a very important portfolio. She has shown poor judgement and leadership in dealing with various issues which have been brought to her attention.

Although she has the power to exercise her authority and protect the millions of women, children and the marginalized in society, including Bella, Rina failed everyone with her lackadaisical attitude.

Bella was victimized by months of abuse and neglect. She is now an unwilling victim of opportunists trying to promote themselves as her saviors.

The other sad thing about Bella’s case is the scores of publicity seekers, celebrities and individuals who have crawled out of the woodwork to post selfies, TikTok videos and Zoom interactions with Bella.

When will they remember that Bella is not a prop in a publicity stunt exercise?

She was victimized by months of abuse and neglect. She is now an unwilling victim of opportunists trying to promote themselves as Bella’s saviors.

Her photos have appeared on social media and newspapers, and no effort has been made to hide her face and identity. This is wrong. It is a criminal offence.

Nor should Bella be treated as propaganda tool and paraded before millions of netizens on Facebook and clips on news channels.

Bella is a child. Her horrid experience of being bullied and picked upon by her care home owner has scarred her for life; but apparently her ordeal did not end when her plight was exposed.

It continued in that at least one Senator, the Women’s minister, and other attention seekers thought nothing of using Bella to show the world that they were doing something about her.

No! These individuals are not sincere. Dragging Bella in front of TV cameras and sticking her face in front of a webcam to be shared on social media was wrong. She is a child!

Bella needs protection instead of having her privacy violated. She did not need the public gawping at her.

She was reticent to answer some questions; nevertheless, she was forced to wave at her questioner and be treated like she was an animal in a circus ring performing various tricks.

Viewers could see from Bella’s facial expression that she was uncomfortable.

She probably wanted to be left alone, to rest or play with other children, instead of being asked awkward questions in real time.

These people were probably attempting to show the world that only they had Bella’s best interests at heart. In other words, only they were doing something about helping Bella.

Whilst that may or may not be true, they would have achieved much more if they had asked their ADUNs or MPs to hammer out their requests in parliament, not just for helping Bella achieve justice but more importantly to demand more financial help from the treasury, and request other services to help Down’s syndrome children and adults in Malaysia.

Where are the special needs schools and facilities? We need more trained special needs teachers.

What about social workers to help prepare them for full or semi-independent living? Will more speech therapists and physiotherapists be trained to help those with Down’s syndrome?

The sudden appearance of self-promoting individuals who profess their love and concern for Bella is worrying. How sincere are they really?

Would they help other Down’s syndrome sufferers, or are they doing this now only because it has attracted the attention of at least one royal household?

Not every future Bella with a similar tragic experience may receive the same attention from royalty and the public.

The law is there to protect them, and that is why it is not just Bella and her abuser that are being judged.

The Malaysian legal system is also being put on trial, to see if it will stand up to scrutiny and give both sides a fair hearing.

Sources:

  1. Malaysiakini: Activists lambast minister for ‘delayed action’ in Bella’s case
  2. Malay Mail: Bella fed with rice mixed with vinegar, rotten fried chicken, witness tells court
  3. Free Malaysia Today: Rumah Bonda founder started abusing Bella after ‘curtain rod’ incident, court told
  4. Malay Mail: Senator Ras Adiba says not at liberty to comment on court case involving PwD teen Bella

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

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