Not long after I started work at a women’s rights organisation, I was alerted by a friend that friend whose husband had taken her kids. This is how I learnt about the broken system in Malaysia and authorities who are quick to wash their hands off anything that smells of domestic problems. It is has also been a journey of miracles as I’ve met many wonderful people along the way; it is reassuring to find people willing to help despite the faulty administration and folded layers of bureaucracy in this country.
This is the story of Ana, a foreigner in Malaysia who has not seen her kids in 18 days.
*Ana was 23, finishing her MBA and dreaming about the faraway future, not unlike any other young girl when she met *Satya nine years ago. She thought he was charming and they shared a devotion to the same religion. Satya sent her elaborate bouquets and heralded grand promises.
“He told me he would give me a good life,” said Ana. She did not anticipate the life of horror that awaited her. To her surprise, Satya flew to her country fairly quickly to marry her. She didn’t think much of the rush, and willingly agreed. Ana left behind her own country, unhappy parents who didn’t approve of the match and an unfinished MBA to be with Malaysian-born Satya, who is six years her senior. Things began to unravel pretty quickly on the plane ride back to Malaysia. Her new father in law kept telling her how much they loved their son and started giving her a tutorial on how to take care of him.
“It’s like they were obsessed with him,” recalled Ana. She was given second-hand clothes to wear and strict instructions not to leave the house, much like a maid. She quickly learnt that her husband was prone to having terrible mood swings and a penchant for violence. He often broke things around the house, in fits of anger. By the time Ana wanted to leave, she was pregnant with her first child.
“I forgot my miserable life when my son was born,” said Ana, with a smile on her face. Her son became her priority and her family was complete when she gave birth to a daughter four years later. Her relationship with her husband worsened however and he was continually violent and disrespectful. Despite moving to another house, her in-laws still harassed her with frequent visits.Satya often took the kids to his parent’s house. It felt like he didn’t trust her.
One day, after a particularly horrible fight, Satya punched and broke her nose. He took her to the hospital and lied on her medical forms, stating that she ‘fell down’. Luckily, the doctor in attendance was suspicious and didn’t believe Satya. The doctor urged Ana to make a police report but Ana was too scared. She kept silent, falsely believing that she was protecting her kids from the misery of a broken home. Also, Ana didn’t want to give up so easily. She was determined to make her marriage work and did not believe in separation as an answer to their problems.
Eighteen days ago, Ana discovered that her husband had taken her children away, without explanation to her. In fact, he waited until Ana dropped off her 7-year-old son to school and went in on the pretext of a family emergency to retrieve him. Satya had already taken their 3-year-old daughter while Ana was dropping off their son.
Ana has been distraught with worry, fear, anger and frustration. As a foreigner, Ana’s hands are further tied as she cannot converse in Malay and has limited contacts in Malaysia. One can only imagine her frustration while trying to converse with government officials and the police who usually speak Malay. In despair, she sought help from friends she made at her son’s school. In contrast to that, her husband’s father is a well-connected man who has not hesitated to act in favour of his son.
Ana has approached the police, the welfare office and her embassy; all three institutions have been slow in acting on this case. The welfare office was efficient; even calling the husband on the spot and recommending a lawyer but it is disappointing to note that the Malaysian police have not taken swift action. She gave evidence to prove that she was still breastfeeding her 3 year old daughter but that did not jumpstart the investigation. It is important to note that the police and many other authorities tend to jump a mile at the mention of domestic violence/family issues. Yet, they jump at the chance of arresting petty criminals and gangsters.
Is it not a crime to take away children from their primary caregiver?
Whose responsibility is it to act on this? Ana has since filed another report, detailing the physical and emotional abuse, the constant threats hurled at her by her husband and father-in-law when she begged them for her kids and the kidnapping of her children. The police told her to pay good money and hire a lawyer. I wonder what they tell people who don’t have good money.
Perhaps you will want to ask Ana why. Why did she stay in an abusive relationship? But we are not here to judge, we are here to help Ana get her kids back safely. Ana has ample proof that her husband is not fit to look after the children but there are many things working against her because she has kept silent all these years. For instance, she cites abuse on many occasions but has very little evidence to prove these, save for medical reports, which she is trying her best to obtain right now. Without the reports, it is hearsay at best when presented at court.
Currently, Ana is pursuing a custody application to see her kids again. It is a long and weary battle, one that looks never-ending and harsh and she cannot do all this without support. We must be Ana’s support system, as caring citizens and as women and mothers who can empathise with her.
One cannot imagine a mother’s pain at being away from her children for so long, and without any contact whatsoever. Ana must be given credit for staying so strong all this while.
So I ask you again, who is responsible in a case like this? The police officer? The welfare officer? The embassy officials? You? Me?
Right now, Ana is being supported by a small group of people who are doing their best to help her get documents in presenting her case in court. Except for me, none of them work in a women’s organisation. On the first day I met Ana, she told me about an organisation that her embassy recommended her. She went in for a visit while the members were having a meeting. She said that not one of them came out to ask her who she was and if they could help.
Not one of them looked up to comfort a troubles woman and offer her words of hope? How is that possible? Have we forgotten to have a heart that goes beyond “I’ll see what I can do”?
As a foreigner, Ana faces a bigger hurdle in obtaining custody for her kids. Many foreign wives have faced a similar situation and without anyone to turn to, lose their kids to a heartless system that chooses to mind its own business. Her husband has refused to let her communicate with her children, yet he is allowed to keep them with him and his family, without the consent of their mother.Let the story of Ana be a lesson to us not to be complacent in the face of injustice.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.