Helping kids reach out for help


Protecting our future: Azalina (second, left) with Unicef representative to Malaysia Robert Gass visiting a booth held in conjunction with World Children’s Day at the Parliament building. — Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: Children of today are practically raised on the Internet, so where better to reach out when crimes are committed against them?

An online system that allows children to report crimes is in the pipeline for next year so “those who feel ‘more afraid’ to come personally” to make a report can do so online, said Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) said this is to ensure children have access to a system that does not discriminate against them.

“Right now, the definition of reporting always refers to police reports.

“That can be a tricky situation when the offence of the perpetrator is outside certain jurisdictions,” she said.

She noted that there are systems in other countries where such complaints can be lodged online.

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These include, among others, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (cybertip.ca), the Australian Federal Police (thinkuknow.org.au), and the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (report.cybertip.org).

“With a Child Commissioner’s Office, we will be able to come up with a better system for less under-reporting,” she told reporters after visiting the International Children’s Day booth in Parliament yesterday.

Azalina said another challenge would be the fear of reporting.

“There could be a situation where certain victims are tight-lipped as they worry about shame.

“We hope the Child Commissioner’s Office will be able to come up with a structure, and work with other relevant agencies when it comes to children’s voices.

“We want children out there to feel safe, and report without fear or favour.”

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The minister also addressed the online safety of children in a Facebook post in conjunction with World Children’s Day yesterday.

In an essay entitled Protecting Our Children Online: The Digital Way Forward, she said, “This Children’s Day, let us commit to creating a digital space where our children not only thrive but are also empowered and safe.

“By incorporating child-centric approaches into our cybersecurity measures, we can foster a generation of digitally literate, confident and protected individuals,” she said.

According to Azalina, the implementation of child-friendly reporting platforms would be a game-changer. Envision a world, she said, where reporting a concern is like seeking assistance from a trusted friend.

“Through the incorporation of intuitive features and design principles centred on children, these applications have the potential to revolutionise the reporting process, turning it into a positive and supportive experience that nurtures a child’s sense of security and confidence,” she said.

With children today being raised in the digital era, Azalina said the government’s commitment should shift to amplify their digital literacy and capacity.

“I commonly witness children and toddlers engrossed in gadgets, be it a smartphone or tablet, at dining tables and in various public spaces.

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“Technology is advancing at a fast rate and 94% of Malaysian children today are active Internet users. Where their tiny footsteps resonate through the vastness of the digital realm, it becomes our collective responsibility to ensure that these steps are guided with understanding, empathy and unwavering protection.”

While it is essential to enhance children’s understanding through educational initiatives that will arm them with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the digital landscape, it is also important to include children in policy-making.

“In embracing the ‘nothing for us without us’ concept, we recognise that the active participation of children in decision-making processes is fundamental to creating policies that genuinely meet their needs and concerns.

“I urge all of us to take a moment to envision a space where our children feel not just seen, but truly heard.

“Let’s cultivate a sense of ownership in our children for their online experiences.

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“Instead of relying solely on adults for reporting and deterrence, let us equip children with the essential information and confidence to report any cybercrimes or untoward incidents they or their peers may encounter,” she said.

According to Azalina, fostering a culture where children feel empowered to voice their concerns would contribute to a safer online environment for all.

Safeguarding children in the ever-expanding digital landscape is a matter of paramount importance as they are the most precious members of society and the future of Malaysia, she added.

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