No more suffering in silence

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  • Saturday, 01 Apr 2017

THE proposed new laws against child sexual abuse mark an important step forward in providing better protection for children in Malaysia.

The Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 tabled in Parliament this week incorporates key provisions against child grooming, child pornography and physical and non-physical sexual assault.

It defines grooming as “any person who communicates by any means with a child for the intention of committing an offence under the Act”, while meeting a child after grooming is an offence punishable with a maximum 10-year jail term and whipping.

Under the Bill, a child is considered competent to provide evidence in a trial, including uncorroborated evidence, if the court permits it.

In addition, failure to report a child sexual abuse case is a punishable offence carrying a RM5,000 fine.

The Bill has been generally welcomed, given that it was fast-tracked following pressure from civil groups and the public for stronger protection for children.

The Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS), for instance, supports the Bill as it will protect more children from abuse.

“We know children are being groomed online, through their phones and by people they meet in their daily lives. This Bill will enable the police to take action as soon as the perpetrators start communicating with the children and arrest them before more harm is done.

“For this to work, all need to be alert to the danger and report suspicious behaviour,” its president Margaret Bedus said.

She noted that the Bill has implications for everyone, as it provides that anyone who knows of any form of sexual abuse must report it or be liable to prosecution themselves.

“For too long people have kept quiet, leaving children to suffer. People need to be aware that children means any boy or girl under the age of 18.

“This Bill specifies that involving them in sexual acts, including witnessing others having sex and child pornography, is punishable by law. Saying that you had no idea they were still children will not be an allowable defence.”

Margaret also called for more awareness programmes and support services to accompany the tighter legislation against child sexual abuse.

She said child protection policies should be established in every agency working with children and training provided for children, parents and teachers.

In addition, she said focus should be given to those attracted to children to get the message across that such behaviour will not be tolerated and they need to change.

“The Bill is strong on deterrents but prevention also means finding ways of working with people attracted to children so they can stop.

“While priority should be given to increasing awareness and giving help to those who have been abused, thought also should be given to helping those at risk of offending to stop them going down that road,” she added.

Likewise Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah called on all MPs, regardless of their political affiliation, to support the Bill.

“It is about giving our children better legal protection in tandem with the sophistication resorted to by child sexual predators,” she said.

Efforts must now continue to finetune the Bill and ensure that the necessary steps are taken for it to be effectively implemented and enforced once it is passed by Parliament. Better protection and preventive measures must also be put in place, along with proper support and help for child abuse survivors.

No longer should children have to suffer in silence while the offenders get away scot-free.

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Opinion , East Malaysia , sharon ling , et cetera


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