More ways needed to protect children

PETALING JAYA: The Child Sex Offenders Registry is not a cure-all and other measures are crucial to protect children, say child activists.

The registry, established in 2019, alone cannot solve the problem of abuse, said child activist Datuk Dr Hartini Zainudin.

“A multifaceted approach that includes education, community support, mental health services, and an effective legal framework is essential to address the root causes of abuse and prevent it from occurring in the first place,” she said.

The Child Sex Offenders Registry, which is accessible at state Welfare Department offices, enables employers to check, among others, whether a prospective childcare provider has a record of child sexual offences.

Children’s Commissioner Dr Farah Nini Dusuki told The Star that there are plans to expand the registry to include crimes such as physical abuse against children, instead of only sexual offences.

Hartini, when asked about this, said: “Given the rise in child abuse cases in daycare centres and other settings, such an expansion would serve as a crucial preventive measure. It would not only help in screening and excluding potential abusers from being employed in sensitive positions involving direct contact with children but could also act as a deterrent for abuse.”

Hartini, however, said expanding the register to include a broader range of abuse would require careful consideration of legal, ethical, and privacy implications.

“It would be essential to define clearly what types of abuse cases would be included and how this information would be managed and accessed to ensure it serves its intended protective purpose without leading to unintended consequences, such as wrongful stigmatisation or privacy violations,” she said.

Childline Foundation project director Datin Wong Poai Hong said there should be a mandatory screening of people applying for child-related jobs.

“Right now, there is no mandatory screening and the existing registry only covers convicted sexual offenders,” she said.

“There are many others not convicted of the offence due to poor investigation or handling.”

Be My Protector engagement and operations director Roland Edward suggested that the registry also include offenders convicted of child-related crimes while they were abroad.

He also said the expansion of the registry should not be restricted to the use of childcare centres but also houses of worship that hire staff who work with children.Child Rights, Innovation and Betterment Foundation co-chair Srividhya Ganapathy said child abuse cases are under-reported and, by and large, only the more serious cases result in a charge and subsequent conviction.

As such, she feels that expanding the register to cover abuse cases is not an effective way to combat the rising number of child abuse incidents in daycare centres.

“I would say that doing a background check on a potential employee would be more useful for any organisation working with children,” she said.

Srividhya said she currently had no data on the efficacy or usefulness of the Child Sex Offenders Registry.

“Of the number of people who are charged in court, only a small fraction is convicted. Given this, the registry in itself is not a comprehensive database as it only records convicted child sexual offenders,” she added.

Instead of expanding the registry, she suggested the government allocate enough funds to ensure that all staff of companies working with children are periodically trained in child safety procedures.

There should also be an efficient system throughout the country to facilitate reports on suspected abuse or child sexual exploitation, and a standardised process to deal with such complaints efficiently and speedily, she said.

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