I THINK most Malaysians would have had chills running down their spine last week after the story of British paedophile Richard Huckle broke.
Thirty-year-old Huckle was arrested in Britain, found with more than 20,000 images and videos of horrifying child sex abuse he had conducted and which he had posted online. He is facing 71 charges of sexually attacking 23 children, some as young as six-month-old babies, during his time in Kuala Lumpur.
Huckle had worked as a volunteer to get close to poverty-stricken families, and used his proximity with children to abuse them over a period of time. On his blog, he wrote that although the families were aware of the abuse and didn’t “approve of it”, he managed to get away with it as they saw him as a form of financial security.
It begs the question of how he managed to slip through the cracks and insinuate his way into volunteer organisations with access to children.
We have to face these questions as a society and ensure we protect our children, especially those from vulnerable communities such as the hardcore poor.
Clearly, we need more stringent vetting processes in place before anyone can register to be a volunteer. It is no longer safe to assume altruism is the only motive for volunteers seeking to work with children.
Child abusers are usually people in contact with children – those who get to know the child over a period of time, getting the children to trust them before betraying their trust in the most heinous way possible. They tend to look for jobs close to children – as teachers or child carers – and this opens the door for them to access children.
Bearing all this in mind, we need to have some stringent processes in place to ensure that volunteers are properly vetted before they can work with children.
It turns out that Huckle had been abusing children over a fairly long period of time – eight years by some accounts – and that begs the question of how it was not detected over that period of time.
Huckle was caught as a result of his online activity on the Love Zone – a website used by abusers who posted their stories, images and videos online. It was not because a child had come forward or parents had instigated the action.
We need to educate our children on abuse from a young age and I believe this needs to be done not just in the home, but in school as well.
It needs to be part of primary children’s school curriculum, where they are taught what can be done and cannot be done to them. They need to be taught about what they can do if someone they know touches them inappropriately.
They need to be aware that there is a system which will protect them – that there are other people they can approach if their parents are unwilling to come forward on their behalf. It can be someone from school, another adult in authority or even a special phone line for children to call in to report something being done to them.
All these are within the purview of ministries such as the Education Ministry, Home Ministry and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.
Many of these checks and balances are already present in developed nations, and we need to put them in place as well.
Malaysia cannot be seen as a paradise for child abusers – much like Gary Glitter, another prolific British child sex offender who targeted children in Cambodia.
If our country is targeted by foreign child offenders, it is partly because we are not strict enough on clamping down on child sex abuse here. Just think back to the Malaysian scholar who was caught with child porn on his computer in London, whom some Malaysians then wanted to give a second chance to.
We put out a certain message out there when we want to give child sex offenders second chances, or when we are too lenient with the ones we do catch in the act here.
The message we put out to other paedophiles is that because we lack strict rules on the area, the risk of them getting caught is minimised. Huckle has proved with his indecent acts over the years that he has been in and out of Malaysia.
So how much longer are we going to wait before doing something about it? How much longer before our inability to do something about the things that really matter destroy us as a society, a nation? We are a nation of people paralysed by our inability to bring about change in many areas. But surely there must be one we have to agree on.
> Sheila Stanley is a writer, TV producer and PR/media consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. She, like most Malaysians, was horrified to read about Huckle’s exploits in the news last week. You can get in touch with her via email at email@example.com