THE existence of our very own paedophiles online as reported in local media sent shivers down the spines of people, especially parents in this country.
While British paedophile Richard Huckle is now behind bars in the UK, local child protection NGOs and the media have revealed disturbing realities - there are local paedophiles walking free among us - and it is not easy to spot them.
Paedophiles – people who are sexually attracted to children – are deceptive and very manipulative when they use child grooming for sexual exploitation of children.
Child sexual grooming involves a paedophile who befriends and establishes an emotional connection with a child and sometimes the family, with the intention to sexually abuse the child.
This could also happen over the Internet, with the paedophile arranging to meet the child in person or the “online friendship” turning into pornography or sex trafficking.
Paedophiles may appear to be normal and can be someone we least suspect. The proliferation of technologies such as the Internet and mobile gadgets has made it possible for paedophiles, irrespective of geographical locations, to access children wherever they are, including at home.
Today’s children are Internet-savvy but these children are not old or mature enough to rationalise, assess or filter what is right or wrong over the Internet.
As children can be easily manipulated, it is imperative for us – parents, society, enforcement authorities, the media and the NGOs - to protect them against sexual predators. Since 2010, police have received over 400 reports of Internet-related rape cases, of which 339 involved minors. Sadly, these are only the tip of the iceberg.
There is no doubt that Malaysia needs to introduce anti-grooming laws. Malaysian society, enraged by the latest revelations from NGOs and the media about local and foreign paedophiles’ heinous crimes, is calling for laws against sexual grooming of children.
Malaysians are also urging the authorities to establish a registry of sex offenders, which should be made separate from a registry of criminal offenders.
The new law, which should clearly define all sexual crimes including intended sexual abuse, would empower our law enforcement agencies to detect and nab the perpetrators before the actual sexual exploitation occurs.
In coming out with the anti-grooming law, relevant authorities and agencies such as the police, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry should get feedback from various child protection NGOs.
We should also learn from other countries’ experience in introducing effective laws to deal with child grooming. Child sexual grooming has been criminalised in countries like Singapore, Australia, Canada and Britain.
Our police personnel should be well-trained to spot possible child groomers, especially those behind the computer keyboards.
The police should also be trained to get the evidence out of children, who are mostly traumatised by the sexual abuse, to ensure prima facie cases against the accused.
Our judges, lawyers and prosecutors should also be sensitive to child abuse cases.
Besides legislation, suitable sex education should be introduced to pre-school and primary school pupils. They should be taught how to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable conduct of adults, recognise inappropriate touching and what to do if they are approached sexually or have been sexually abused.
Public awareness campaigns are also necessary to educate all Malaysians about child sexual abuse, pornography and the paedophiles.
Some people in our society prefer to keep child sexual abuse under wraps for fear of social stigma, especially if the abusers are family members. Some still dismiss a person’s obsession with videos and photographs of child pornography as a small matter.
This has to stop. The negative impact of child sexual abuse may last until adulthood.
Survivors of child sexual abuse should receive appropriate counselling. Convicted paedophiles must undergo therapy, treatment and medication as paedophilia is a type of psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older teenager experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
Treating paedophiles may still be a new area in Malaysia but in countries like Germany, the UK and the US, various therapies, treatments and medications have been and are being developed. We have to prevent convicted paedophiles relapsing into their criminal behaviour.
According to a survey, CyberSAFE 2015, more than 90 per cent of schoolchildren in Malaysia use the Internet, and 83 per cent are susceptible to online dangers due to poor supervision.
The survey found that some respondents had sent intimate photos or videos to someone on the Internet, others had been asked to upload intimate photos or videos of themselves on the Internet and some respondents accessed pornography on the Internet.
This is the time to act. We cannot let the matter rest, there are paedophiles walking among us and a child is being groomed somewhere in the country or over the internet even as we speak.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Senior Vice Chairman, Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation
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