At least three children would turn up at Malacca Hospital each week to seek treatment for sexual abuse, the gynaecologist Dr Maimunah Fadzil reportedly said.
According to the New Straits Times today, the gynaecologist at the hospital said this number usually rises during school holidays and festive periods, when children spend more time at home.
She reportedly attributed this is due to lack of close parental supervision, and lack of options for healthy past times. In addition, she claimed that there is a trend where children are also taking part in the immoral activities of the adults around them.
“Once they are left at home without close parental supervision, they gain access (or are exposed to, certain behaviours), and do not understand the gravity of such activities, especially surfing explicit web sites, before they become addicted […]
“Children will try to extend the knowledge they gather on their own into physical contact, either as doer or stimulator,” she was quoted as saying.
The report said she was speaking on Saturday at the Paedophilia, Pornography and Cyber Crime seminar, which was organised by Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram) in Malacca.
Maimunah reportedly said children under the age of 13 who are reclusive or have problems socialising are particularly at risk of sexual abuse.
The problem is exacerbated when parents refuse to report such cases to the authorities to maintain ‘domestic harmony’.
Earlier today, Reuters reported that most complaints of child sexual abuse in Malaysia do not result in a conviction.
Citing police data, it said there had been 12,987 cases of child sexual abuse between January 2012 to July this year. Of these, charges were filed for 2,189 cases, but this resulted in only 140 convictions.
The report said officials and child welfare groups attributed the lack of convictions to weak police and child protection laws, which in turn lead to inadequate investigations and a low conviction rate.
Many cases also go unreported due to taboos surrounding child sexual abuse and mistrust of authorities, the report said.
The police meanwhile reportedly blamed the rules regarding court evidence, which give little weight to the children’s testimony.
The police’s Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division chief Ong Chin Lan also reportedly told Reuters that the police lacked the expertise to monitor activities on an hidden portion of the internet known as the ‘dark web’, where some online paedophile groups operate and share child sexual abuse material.
transmission of child pornography on the Internet Olivia Harris/Reuters
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.
12,987 cases - 2189 charges means 17% of cases result in charges
140 convictions means 6% of cases where charges are laid result in conviction
It also means only 1% of cases result in a conviction
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.
But that is exactly what you need to do in order to do anything about it. Sweeping it under a rug accomplishes nothing except that it attempts to hide the problem. It's like pretending the cancer isn't there.
It is unclear how Malaysia’s number of reported cases compares with its neighbours, 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 paedophiles, also does not disclose official data.
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-victimise 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 authorising chemical castration, minimum sentences and even execution for convicted paedophiles. 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.
Foreign paedophiles could be targeting Malaysia as other countries around the region strengthen child protection laws and step up enforcement, some experts said.
Snow White Smelser, programme officer at the child sex offences team in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) East Asia headquarters in Bangkok, said paedophiles compare notes and share information online about countries where they can operate most freely.
Elena Martellozzo, a London-based criminologist who specialises 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 neighbour, a relative, a caregiver, or someone like Huckle, who according to court testimony groomed children in an impoverished ethnic Indian neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur.
But increasingly, paedophile activity is moving into the online world, police say.
Australian detectives who investigate paedophiles in the region believe Malaysia has become one of Southeast Asia’s biggest centres 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 paedophile 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-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 paedophile networks. “We do not have expertise in handling the dark web. We get alerted from our counterparts overseas,” she said.