Sweden takes tourism chief’s children into care over smacking

A campaign is being waged in Malaysia for the release of a Muslim couple who were arrested in Sweden for allegedly hitting their 12-year-old son on the hand when he refused to say his prayers.

Azizul Raheem Awalludin, the Stockholm director of the Malaysian tourist board, and his wife Shalwati Nurshal, a teacher, have been held on remand for more than a month. Their four children, aged 7 to 14, have been placed with foster parents who are not Muslims — adding to Malaysian indignation. Twitter users are demanding the repatriation of the family and a Facebook page, Bring Shal and Family Home, has acquired more than 10,000 followers in three days.

Malaysian media reports have quoted the oldest child, Aisyah, complaining about the way food is served by her foster family, and about their dog — animals viewed by Muslims as unclean. “Although they do not feed us non-halal food, we share the crockery and utensils used for non-halal food,” she said. “We have to fend for ourselves. Every day we have to take the public transport such as the bus or train in cold weather. We don’t have enough warm clothing. Allah, please save our family, our parents. We need them in our life. We miss them so much. We want to meet them.”

The Swedish authorities are still investigating, and have not charged the couple, who are believed to have been in Sweden for three years. Local accounts suggest that police were approached by the boy’s school after his teacher expressed concern about him.

Rohani Abdul Karim, Malaysia’s Minister for Families, said the Government was doing all it could to resolve the case through diplomatic channels. “We believe there was no child abuse involved,” she said. “It was probably a misunderstanding about the parents educating their children religiously and instilling good Muslim values in them from a young age.”

Sweden has strict laws banning all physical punishment of children, a fact that has caused surprise in Malaysia, where many parents smack their children. Philip Golingai, a columnist in the Kuala Lumpur newspaper The Star, reminisced about being beaten by the rotan, a cane, during his childhood in the 1980s: “Some of my schoolmates had it worse. Their parents hit them with broomsticks, feather dusters, clothes hangers, belts and irons.”

Internet users have called for a boycott of Swedish goods, but others have criticised the family for ignorance of Sweden’s child protection laws, and called for Malaysians to reflect on their attitudes to corporal punishment. An editorial in The Star argued for a change of attitudes. “Though most well-meaning parents would deny that they are being violent against their children, how many adults would tolerate being ‘disciplined’ by another adult in the same manner as children are?” it asked.