New report finds promising government initiatives to help end online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Malaysia
Disrupting Harm report recommends comprehensive sexuality education to protect children
PUTRAJAYA, 29 September - The ground-breaking Disrupting Harm report launched today highlights good practices and promising initiatives in Malaysia to tackle increasing concern of online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA). The report was produced by ECPAT International, INTERPOL and UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti - with the support of Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and led by the technical committee chaired by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Existing collaboration with industry partners and existing laws strengthen efforts to end OCSEA. Notable initiatives are plenty, including the Cyber Safe awareness programme in schools, existing hotlines and helplines, the dedicated Malaysian Internet Crime Against Children Investigation Unit, or the tireless work of the Department of Social Welfare’s social service workers in supporting child victims of abuse and exploitation.
“The government of Malaysia today, by seeking out evidence such as contained in this report, has demonstrated its commitment as duty bearer to ensure that children are protected online as much as they are offline. For children, the border that separates cyberspace and real life does not exist. The friendships and knowledge children gain online have as much impact as the ones they have offline. And of equal consequence, are the abuse and exploitation they may face. Children are better protected when we arm them with knowledge, including comprehensive sexuality education and providing support when they face such harms” said Edgar Donoso, UNICEF Representative a.i. to Malaysia.
However, as in all 13 countries included in the Disrupting Harm Research, more needs to be done by a wide range of stakeholders to counter this new threat to children. The research findings point to investing in interagency child protection support and response systems, increasing implementation of existing laws, ensuring the criminal justice system is more child-friendly. Additionally, the research recommends increasing awareness among children, teachers and caregivers regarding OCSEA, allocating more resources as well as sustaining coordination and cooperation across all relevant stakeholders.
“We welcome the passing of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill to prevent unwelcomed sexual advances – it sends a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable. We also need to look at it together with Child Act 2001 and Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017, where the prevention and response need to be clearly reflected in the relevant legislations. Children should be empowered with comprehensive sexuality education so they can protect themselves from unwanted sexual contacts both online and offline. There must be trust and confidence nurtured between children and adults so as to ensure early identification and reporting of both online and offline child sexual exploitation and abuse and in no way, should children be blamed, shamed or stigmatised, said Datuk Dr Raj Karim, Chair of End CSEC Network Malaysia.
An estimated 100,000 internet-using children aged 12-17 had experienced clear instances of OCSEA in the year prior to being surveyed. The experiences reported by children ranged from grooming, being offered money or gifts in exchange for sexual images, being threatened or blackmailed to engage in sexual acts, and having their images shared without permission. This figure is likely to be under-reported, as children may be uncomfortable disclosing their experiences of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Disrupting Harm in Malaysia found that discomfort discussing sex and stigmatisation of victims discourages children from raising concerns and can deter both children and adults from reporting incidences of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. 82% of frontline workers interviewed said that they believed that stigma from the community negatively influenced reporting. Additionally, there is a lack of knowledge around reporting mechanisms that children, caregivers, and the community can access. 74% of frontline workers agreed that a lack of knowledge around reporting mechanisms was a key barrier to tackling online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Malaysia.
When children lack age-appropriate information and awareness about topics like online risks, sex, consent, and boundaries, it enables offenders to take advantage as children do not see the warning signs. Disrupting Harm in Malaysia found that 60% of children in the country had not received any sex education in the year before they were surveyed.
Disrupting Harm in Malaysia report contains recommendations for stakeholders that include:
- Continue to engage the public including children, caregivers, teachers and others in awareness of violence against children including OCSEA.
- Comprehensive sexuality education should provide children with relevant, age-appropriate, and factual information so they are prepared against offenders attempting to harm them.
- Ensure reporting mechanisms are available, accessible and known to all children, with access to referral support services such as trained social service workers. This includes formal reporting mechanisms within social media and instant messaging platforms that are clear and accessible to children and detail in child-friendly terms what happens after children submit a report.
Disrupting Harm in Malaysia is part of an unprecedented 13 country research project by the Fund to End Violence Against Children with research and analysis conducted by ECPAT International, INTERPOL and UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.
In conjunction with the Disrupting Harm report launch, UNICEF will be rolling out the SayaSayangSaya youth social media campaign for young people on self-love, healthy relationships and online sexual exploitation and abuse. This campaign will run from October 2022 to February 2023.
Note to editor:
Full report can be read here: Disrupting Harm in Malaysia
Children in Malaysia were subjected to various forms of online sexual abuse and exploitation and other unwanted experiences online, the report found:
- 9% of children were subjected to sexual comments made about them that made them feel uncomfortable in the past year. The majority of these comments were made by someone they knew.
- 9% of children were sent unwanted sexual images in the past year.
- 5% of surveyed children were asked to talk about sex or sexual acts with someone when they did not want to and 3% of surveyed children received a request for a photo or video showing their private parts when they did not want to in the past year. Depending on the context, these experiences could be an indication of grooming.
- Stigma and discomfort discussing sex was clearly evident in Malaysia, but despite this some young people reported the online sexual exploitation and abuse they were subjected to and their cases were handled well. The report contains valuable, urgent advice for making things easier for other young people in these situations.
What is Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA)?
Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) refers to situations involving digital, internet and communication technologies at some point during the continuum of abuse or exploitation. OCSEA can occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children.
When children are involved, it’s not porn. It’s abuse. It’s a crime. Terms such as "kiddy porn" and "child porn" are also used by criminals and should not be legitimate language used by anyone, including the public, media, law enforcement and judiciary.
‘Child pornography’; implies consent, yet children cannot be complicit in their own abuse. ‘Child porn’ is ALWAYS the wrong term to use to describe the crime of child sexual abuse images and videos. Simply because it diminishes the crime and perpetuates the abuse. Any material that shows children in sexual activity is child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
Child sexual abuse refers to any sexual activity perpetrated against children (anyone under 18), regardless of whether the children are aware that what is happening to them is wrong. Child sexual abuse can be committed by adults or peers; and is usually anchored on an imbalance of power. It can be committed without explicit force. Offenders frequently use authority, power, manipulation, or deception in child sexual abuse.
Child sexual exploitation involves the same abusive actions with an additional element of a threat or of exchange for something such as money, gifts, immaterial things like protection, a relationship, or even shelter), or even the mere promise of such.
The Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Luxembourg Guidelines, offer clear guidance on how to navigate the complex lexicon of terms commonly used when addressing the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.
What is Violence against Children (VAC)?
Violence against children (VAC) is defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 19 as: “All forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.
About Disrupting Harm
In early 2019, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, through its Safe Online initiative, invested $7 million to develop Disrupting Harm, a holistic and innovative research project that aims to better understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
Safe Online brought together and funded three organisations – ECPAT, INTERPOL and the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti – to undertake new research in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. This type of holistic research and assessment is unique. The methodology developed for these assessments has been implemented across the 13 countries and can be used by other countries in the future.
Reporting lines and platforms to report OCSEA:
Talian Kasih by Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development
15999 or Whatsapp 019 26 15999
Cyber999 by CyberSecurity Malaysia, Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (or K-KOMM)
Content Forum registered under the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (or K-KOMM)
Internet Watch Foundation – Malaysian Portal
For more information, please contact:
Rachel Choong, UNICEF Malaysia, +6012 2932690, email@example.com
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.