More bite in child protection law

KUALA LUMPUR: Withholding information or failing to report suspected sexual abuse of children will be an offence once the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 becomes law.

Among others, the bill addresses the issue of corroboration of evidence for child sexual abuse victims. Currently, such evidence needs to be supported with testimonies by other witnesses.

The bill aims to abolish this procedure, in line with practices adopted by many Commonwealth countries.

It will also address the issue of credibility of evidence from victims in child sexual crimes, and the setting up of a special court to hear such cases.

The bill, to be tabled today, is expected to focus on penalising perpetrators who abuse their position of trust, such as family members, teachers, coaches and child institutions or shelter home managers, and will provide stiffer penalties, including whipping and longer jail terms.

Apart from that, the bill will define child pornography according to international standards and set penalties for those making or possessing such material. This is in addition to provisions in Section 292 of the Penal Code on the sale and distribution of obscene material.

Human rights lawyers and child rights activists have raised concerns that there is currently no law to punish paedophiles in Malaysia and that "mere possession" of child pornography may not be punishable at all.

The Penal Code only addresses crimes involving obscene materials while Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act deals with the making, creating and transmitting of such material via the internet.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (pix) is leading a task force, set up last August, to deliberate on a specific law on sexual crimes against children.

Azalina had repeatedly said the proposed law will serve as a deterrent while ensuring people in positions of trust and who fail to provide information related to the cases are also held responsible for such offences.

She said the bill will also cover and criminalise sexual grooming of a child for sexual exploitation.

Members of the task force includes representatives from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, Attorney-General's Chambers, police, lawyers, academicians and non-governmental organisations.

It was reported statistics from the Social Welfare Department revealed 5,779 child sexual abuse cases were recorded between 2010 and 2015, with an average of 963 cases a year.

Police statistics showed there were 2,759 cases of rape, 412 cases of incest, 1,423 cases of molest and 422 cases of unnatural sex involving children under the age of 18 in 2015 and 2016.