Kuala Lumpur, 22 February 2019 - In the past few years, Malaysia has made significant progress in protecting children against sex trafficking. The Sexual Offences Against Children Act (SOAC) that was passed in 2017 is a major step forward in the right direction. While this new comprehensive legislative framework encompassing both online and offline sexual abuse has gone a long way in addressing some of the gaps related to sexual offences against children, laws alone are not sufficient to keep them safe.
UNICEF is not aware of data that would indicate a recent rise in the number of cases of child trafficking for sexual exploitation. What we know is that child trafficking for sexual exploitation is an important yet largely invisible issue in Malaysia. Lack of data and research keeps child sex trafficking under the radar and difficult to measure. UNICEF stands ready to support the government in collecting consistent data. Additionally, the capacity of justice sector professionals and other service providers need to be enhanced. UNICEF continues to work with the government to strengthen their skills and expertise in addressing child sexual abuse.
On the 18th of February 2019, the Ministry of Women, Family, Children and Community Development hosted an ASEAN regional event to consider actions towards prevention and response to violence against children. The ASEAN review focused on the importance of regional cooperation mechanisms to combat all forms of violence against children, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, noting that cross border coordination is essential to tackle exploitation of children in general, and online exploitation specifically.
In partnership with MCMC, UNICEF will support a capacity-building activity in April to raise awareness for ICT partners about the risks and threats that children face online, including commercial sexual exploitation. We will also be part of regional research on Child Online Safety to help us to better understand the nature of the risks and threats that children experience online and thus how to better design policy and protective mechanisms. Services like help lines and counselling services to child victims to seek assistance when they face abuse and exploitation exist in Malaysia but need to be strengthened. And the Malaysian government is moving in this regard as well.
However, the Malaysian government is not the only stakeholder responsible for curbing child sex trafficking. Hotels, and inter-city travel and transport operators need to understand their role within the eco-system that allows this kind of abuse to happen. Putting an end to child trafficking for sexual exploitation would require the support of not just the government. Individuals should report when they suspect a child may be the victim of trafficking, as should communities when they notice that a child has gone missing, the private sector should also keep an eye out and report any suspected case so the police can take quick action.
We need to keep in mind that the perpetrators of sexual abuse against children can be anyone - both foreigners and Malaysians. According to a report released by the international NGO ECPAT, Malaysia is not only a sex tourism destination for women and children in the region, but it is also an ‘exporter’ of sex predators to neighboring countries.
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.