Amend laws on sexual offences against children to stand up to AI, tech challenges

KUALA LUMPUR: The laws on sexual offences against children drafted in 2017 must be amended to deal with emerging challenges posed by technological changes, especially artificial intelligence (AI), says Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) said the Sexual Offences Against Children Act (Act 729) will be reviewed as part of the Madani Government’s roadmap into 2025.

“We cannot deny the laws pertaining to grooming (for example) in 2017 may not comply with the AI situation. We must take into account the challenges of grooming, which are being amplified because of AI,” Azalina told a child protection symposium here Monday (April 29).

“Presently if we speak to the police or the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, one of the biggest problems we have is visuals of children being sold on the dark web, which is also now available on the open web.

“Another challenge is payment, which was previously done via the dark web, but now done with bitcoins. In some countries it has been proven payments made with cryptocurrency and bitcoin cannot be traced to the person committing the offences,” she said.

Azalina was speaking to reporters after launching the International Symposium on the Empowerment of Children’s Commission organised by the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department (BHEUU), Unicef Malaysia, the Delegation of the European Union to Malaysia, and Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia (Suhakam) at the Asian International Arbitration Centre (AIAC).

Also at the launch were Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) M.Kulasegaran, Women, Family And Community Development Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad, Children Commissioner Dr Farah Nini Dusuki, EU Deputy Head of Delegation to Malaysia Timo Goosmann, and Unicef Malaysia Deputy Representative Sanja Saranovic.

Azalina added that with rapidly evolving AI technology, it was crucial to understand the current scenarios taking shape by having laws that address the challenges.

She also mentioned establishing the Office of the Children's Commissioners (OCC) at the state level, but stressed the matter must be further studied.

This was because issues related to children cannot be handled at the centralised level alone, they needed to be monitored at the state level based on their different jurisdictions and laws.

However, she said that such a move could not be made hastily. Instead they will examine the pros and cons based on what can be gained from hosting the first symposium featuring relevant stakeholders and other children’s commissioners.

Earlier in her speech, Azalina said it was crucial to emphasise the vital role of Children's Commissioners and similar oversight bodies in advocating for children's rights globally.

“We have witnessed remarkable success stories worldwide where these commissioners have been powerful agents of change, spurring legislative reforms, advancing policy initiatives, and amplifying children's voices in decision-making processes.

“It is important to recognise that the role of Children's Commissions is not confrontational; rather, they are intended to collaborate with and support all levels of society - including both public and private sectors and beyond.

“In the face of rapid technological advancements such as AI and the associated risks, the necessity for an independent and professional body dedicated solely to safeguarding children becomes increasingly apparent.

“Such an entity can transcend traditional boundaries and focus solely on protecting the rights and wellbeing of children in an ever-evolving landscape,” she said.

The symposium, which is held from April 29 to 30 features a platform for stakeholders from various sectors coming together to discuss and share best practices in empowering children’s commissions globally while emphasising key mandates within the framework of good governance.

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