Malaysia child abuse goes un­pun­ished

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Most com­plaints of child sex­ual abuse in Malaysia do not lead to suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tions, largely due to weak­nesses in the na­tion’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, po­lice, law­mak­ers and child wel­fare groups say. Ac­cord­ing to clas­si­fied data Malaysian po­lice com­piled and shared with Reuters, 12,987 cases of child sex­ual abuse were re­ported to po­lice be­tween Jan­uary 2012 and July of this year. Charges were filed in 2,189 cases, re­sult­ing in just 140 con­vic­tions.

The data doesn’t show how many peo­ple were in­volved, or what hap­pened in the cases where there were no con­vic­tions af­ter charges were filed. No de­tails were dis­closed in the cases where there were con­vic­tions. Child rights ad­vo­cates have long pushed the gov­ern­ment to pub­licly dis­close data on child sex­ual abuse to in­crease aware­ness so ac­tion can be taken to ad­dress what they call a grow­ing prob­lem.

A veil was lifted in June when a Bri­tish court handed Richard Huckle 22 life sen­tences for abus­ing up to 200 ba­bies and chil­dren, mostly in Malaysia, and shar­ing images of his crimes on the dark Web. The rea­son the Malaysian gov­ern­ment doesn’t pub­lish child sex­ual abuse data is be­cause it is pro­tected un­der Malaysia’s Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act. The gov­ern­ment pro­vides data on child abuse only at the re­quest of a mem­ber of par­lia­ment.

“We don’t want peo­ple to mis­in­ter­pret it,” said Ong Chin Lan, the head of the Sex­ual, Women and Chil­dren In­ves­ti­ga­tion Divi­sion of the Malaysian na­tional po­lice. The gov­ern­ment doesn’t want to un­duly alarm the pub­lic about pos­si­bly high num­bers of child abuse cases, she ex­plained. It is un­clear how Malaysia’s num­ber of re­ported cases com­pares with its neigh­bors, some of whom are also re­luc­tant to dis­close a high in­ci­dence of child sex­ual abuse.

Thai­land’s gov­ern­ment de­clined to pro­vide data to Reuters. A se­nior health min­istry of­fi­cial, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied, said it could “make Thai­land look bad”. Cam­bo­dia, long known as a des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ling pe­dophiles, also does not dis­close of­fi­cial data.

Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Weak­ness

Weak polic­ing and child pro­tec­tion laws make it dif­fi­cult to pun­ish child abusers in Malaysia, lead­ing to in­ad­e­quate in­ves­ti­ga­tions and low con­vic­tions on the re­ported cases, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials and child wel­fare groups Reuters in­ter­viewed. They also say a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of child sex­ual abuse cases are never re­ported be­cause of taboos around child sex abuse and mis­trust of author­i­ties. In 17 years of op­er­a­tion, PS the Chil­dren, Malaysia’s big­gest NGO deal­ing with child abuse, has seen zero con­vic­tions on the cases it has han­dled, its founder Madeleine Yong told Reuters.

“There needs to be im­prove­ment in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem if we want to en­cour­age more peo­ple to re­port, oth­er­wise we will re-vic­tim­ize the child,” she said. Ong at the sex­ual crimes unit said po­lice take every case of child sex­ual abuse se­ri­ously and “all cases are in­ves­ti­gated in de­tail”. Po­lice blame weak laws and rules gov­ern­ing court ev­i­dence that give lit­tle weight to chil­dren’s tes­ti­mony as the rea­son most cases never re­sult in charges.

Malaysia does not have a law specif­i­cally pro­hibit­ing child pornog­ra­phy and de­fines rape nar­rowly as pe­nile pen­e­tra­tion. “Groom­ing” - touch­ing and be­friend­ing chil­dren as a pre­lude to sex­ual abuse - draws no le­gal penal­ties. By con­trast, In­done­sia’s par­lia­ment has passed leg­is­la­tion au­tho­riz­ing chem­i­cal cas­tra­tion, min­i­mum sen­tences and even ex­e­cu­tion for con­victed pe­dophiles. Thai­land in­tro­duced stricter laws against child pornog­ra­phy last year.

A Child Sex­ual Crimes bill, ex­pected to be in­tro­duced to par­lia­ment by the end of the year, would widen the def­i­ni­tion of sex­ual crimes to in­clude on­line abuse, and make such crimes eas­ier to pros­e­cute. It would also set up a spe­cial court to deal with child sex abuse cases more quickly.

The Dark Web

For­eign pe­dophiles could be tar­get­ing Malaysia as other coun­tries around the re­gion strengthen child pro­tec­tion laws and step up en­force­ment, some ex­perts said. Snow White Smelser, pro­gram of­fi­cer at the child sex of­fences team in the United Na­tions Of­fice on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) East Asia head­quar­ters in Bangkok, said pe­dophiles com­pare notes and share in­for­ma­tion on­line about coun­tries, where they can op­er­ate most freely.

Elena Martel­lozzo, a Lon­don-based crim­i­nol­o­gist who spe­cial­izes in child sex abuse on the in­ter­net, said Huckle could have cho­sen Malaysia “be­cause it was not on the radar, or per­haps it’s where he found it eas­ier to get work per­mits, visas and some work op­por­tu­ni­ties”. Typ­i­cally, chil­dren are sex­u­ally abused by some­one they know - a neigh­bor, a rel­a­tive, a care­giver, or some­one like Huckle, who ac­cord­ing to court tes­ti­mony groomed chil­dren in an im­pov­er­ished eth­nic In­dian neigh­bor­hood in Kuala Lumpur.

But in­creas­ingly, pe­dophile ac­tiv­ity is mov­ing into the on­line world, po­lice say. Aus­tralian de­tec­tives who in­ves­ti­gate pe­dophiles in the re­gion be­lieve Malaysia has be­come one of South­east Asia’s big­gest cen­ters for the trans­mis­sion of child pornog­ra­phy on the In­ter­net. Team Ar­gos, the Aus­tralian de­tec­tive unit that found Huckle in the dark web in late 2014, made a star­tling dis­cov­ery from the team’s scour­ing of on­line pe­dophile net­works: The un­usual num­ber of In­ter­net ad­dresses in the Kuala Lumpur area trans­mit­ting child sex­ual abuse ma­te­rial from the dark Web.

The dark Web is a vast vir­tual space within the In­ter­net, which re­quires spe­cial en­cryp­tion tools to ac­cess. The Bris­bane, Aus­tralia-based de­tec­tives found 1,000 trans­mis­sions of child porno­graphic ma­te­ri­als from the Malaysian cap­i­tal over a 24-hour pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to Ar­gos data pro­vided by the UNODC. It was the se­cond-largest trans­mis­sion lo­ca­tion in South­east Asia af­ter Bangkok’s 1,800 - Bangkok’s pop­u­la­tion of 8.2 mil­lion is more than four times that of Kuala Lumpur’s.

The Malaysian cap­i­tal is a “high con­cern” lo­ca­tion for the dis­tri­bu­tion of child sex­ual abuse ma­te­ri­als, said Smelser at the UNODC. Ong at the child sex crime unit said Malaysian po­lice can’t prop­erly mon­i­tor the en­crypted pe­dophile net­works. “We do not have ex­per­tise in han­dling the dark Web. We get alerted from our coun­ter­parts over­seas,” she said. —Reuters

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