PETALING JAYA: Legislation needs to go hand-in-hand with parental responsibility, say NGOs and welfare organisations in response to R.AGE’s documentary highlighting the sexual exploitation of children online.
The documentary, Predator In My Phone, was launched yesterday and is part of a campaign pushing for anti-grooming laws to combat cyber abuse.
“Children are now vulnerable online as well as offline,” said Unicef representative to Malaysia, Marianne Clark-Hattingh.
“Parents play a prominent role in cultivating a safe environment for their children.”
However, stern disciplinary action like confiscating mobile phones or disconnecting the Internet wouldn’t work, said Abby Latif, programme director of Women:girls.
“Instead, it is critical that parents and guardians keep the lines of communication open. Most grooming processes target the breakdown of the parent-child relationship. It happens in different ways at different stages of age so this is not a one-time conversation for parents and child,” she said.
“Trust-building happens over time and not overnight,” she added. “Removing a child’s online freedom – a one-time act of discipline – may destroy parent-child trust. Parents should instead invest care and time consistently.”
Groomers often manipulate children into keeping their relationship a secret, said Women’s Centre for Change programme consultant Prema Devaraj.
There are, however, a few key giveaways that a child might be undergoing grooming, besides sudden secretiveness.
“In some instances, a child may have an older ‘friend’ or meet a ‘friend’ in an unusual place. Gifts, like a new phone or bracelet, which she is reluctant to explain, are also red flags.
“In some children, there could be unexplained changes in behaviour or personality, or inappropriate sexual behaviour or knowledge for their age,” she said.
But child sexual abuse or exploitation can also affect a child’s physical and mental health.
Clark-Hattingh said it would impair their ability to learn and socialise, and impact their transition to adulthood.
“To combat this, parents need to open the lines of communication with their children.”
Currently, the Malaysian Penal Code Section 377E addresses child grooming – described as inciting a child under 14 to any act of gross indecency – but it leaves children above 14 vulnerable.
However, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar announced yesterday that the police force was in favour of laws against child grooming.
To address issues related to cyber safety and to advocate for the protection of children online, Unicef, in partnership with R.AGE, DiGi and Women:girls will be hosting a town hall where youth advocates can have a discussion regarding digital safety issues with policymakers.
The public can also pledge their support towards anti-grooming laws at rage.com.my/predator.
The Unicef townhall will be held on June 25 at Makespace, Quill City Mall, Kuala Lumpur. For more information, log on to fb.com/thestarRAGE.