PETALING JAYA: The arrest of serial paedophile Richard Huckle, who was found dead in his prison cell in the United Kingdom, left an indelible mark on Malaysian society.
The news of his heinous sexual crimes against children in Malaysia shocked the nation, but it led to a movement that would completely reform the country’s laws on child sexual crimes.
Huckle’s arrest happened when Star Media Group’s award-winning R.AGE team was deep into its six-month Predator In My Phone undercover investigation of online child sexual predators in Malaysia, and the revelations galvanised civil society and lawmakers to pass the Sexual Offences Against Children Act (2017).
“Huckle’s case brought child protection and child sexual exploitation into the minds of the government and civil society.
“Everyone had been working on it, but perhaps on their own and without much government support, ” said Sharmila Sekaran from child rights NGO Voice of the Children.
R.AGE released the Predator In My Phone documentary series less than a month after news of Huckle’s arrest broke in Malaysia, and subsequently embarked on a campaign to lobby for Members of Parliament to pass new laws against child sexual crimes.
The campaign collected over 14,000 signatures and was supported by over 120 MPs from both government and opposition parties.
At the same time, then de facto law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said led a task force consisting of the police, Attorney General’s Chambers and civil society organisations to draft a Bill which eventually became the Sexual Offences Against Children Act (SOAC).
“MPs on both sides were supportive and gave a huge commitment to the drafting of the SOAC, which was done in a short time, ” said Azalina.
“(Huckle’s arrest) was definitely a good thing, and has created a lot of awareness about child protection that has continued until now.”
Azalina added that special courts were established to hear child sexual crime cases, with special training conducted for judges and prosecutors.
“The former government gave a commitment to have such courts in every state, including Sabah and Sarawak, so I hope this government will also continue this, ” said Azalina.
Sharmila, however, added that Malaysia needed more than legislative change to tackle child sexual exploitation.
“When we hear people in positions of power saying that the child consented, how far have we moved on in terms of our thinking?
“It’s one thing to have laws like (the SOAC) but as a nation, if we can’t change our mindsets (towards child sexual exploitation), how much have we moved on really?” asked Sharmila.
Huckle made global headlines in June 2016 for having sexually abused children as young as six months in Malaysia and Cambodia, where he was working as a volunteer and photographer in care homes and orphanages.
He had been arrested in the UK after months of investigation led by the Australian police, who had been investigating a blog in the dark web that featured photos of child sexual abuse.
The police found over 20,000 images and video recordings of child abuse in his hard drive, collected between 2006 and 2014.
Huckle, 33, admitted to 71 counts of sexual abuse across Malaysia and Cambodia, and was ordered to serve at least 22 life sentences, or a minimum of 25 years. He was found stabbed to death with a makeshift knife at the Full Sutton prison in East Yorkshire, England.
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