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Foreign tourism director detained in Sweden

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Children kept apart from parents for more than a month

The four children of a Tourism Malaysia director in Stockholm are likely to be kept separated from their parents for a further two weeks, following a month already spent apart. The director and his wife are to remain in custody in Sweden after being arrested for hitting their 12-year-old son on the hand as a punishment for not performing his prayers.

The incident has been described as a classic case of a clash of cultures, between Sweden where the law strictly says children must not be subject to physical punishment, and Malaysia where there is a difference between spanking as a corrective tool for children and physical abuse.

In this case, one daughter aged 14 and her three brothers aged 12, 11 and 7, were placed in a foster home arranged by Swedish social services when their parents, Azizul Raheem Awalludin and his wife Shalwati Nurshal, a secondary school teacher, were detained on December 18.

The children say they are uneasy where they are staying because they are given non-halal food and their foster parents have a dog.

“I miss mummy and daddy,” one of the children said. “We are sad each time we come home from school as our parents are not around.”

According to the daughter, the Swedish authorities have not allowed the children to meet family relatives who have flown from Malaysia to see them.

The story has been widely reported in Malaysia, but not in Sweden. The press reports say that the incident began when the 12-year-old’s teacher noticed the boy was looking dejected and asked what was wrong. The teacher then informed the school councillor, who wrote a report. The children were taken from the school and their parents arrested the same day.

No charges have yet been brought, but under Swedish law the children must remain apart from their parents until the case is heard. On Thursday the remand order was extended by another two weeks. If the parents are found guilty they face a jail sentence of at least nine months. The Malaysian government has sent a representative to Stockholm to get an update on the matter.

UPDATE:

Speaking today to TTG Nordic in Kuching, Borneo, at the opening of the Asian Tourism Forum travel fair, Malaysia’s tourism minister YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz said: “We respect the laws that are in Sweden and we expect visitors in Malaysia to respect our laws. There are laws in Sweden about the punishment of children, so we accept that the matter in Sweden will take its course.

“The parents probably wanted to raise their child and came into conflict with Swedish laws and are now in prison. I just hope that they are not treated too harshly.

When asked if he as Minister of Tourism, would go and intervene in the matter, he replied: “No. We have the embassy in Sweden who will speak with the authorities. I have no authority to turn to the Swedish courts.”

The Star / Utusan Malaysia / New Staits Times

[pictured: Malaysian press reports of the story]

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