PETALING JAYA: We teach children to beware of strangers but sadly, many loving and well-meaning parents are putting their children in “stranger danger” each day.

The “Who Knows What About Me” report states there would be an average of 70,000 posts about a child by the time he or she turns 18. In some cases, “datafication” of children even starts before birth, when pregnant mothers post information such as the child’s gender.

Kolej Unikop School of Investigation and Enforcement acting head Shankar Durairaja said the practice of parents posting information about their children online has come to be known as “sharenting”.

“Parents regard sharenting as a central role in their parenting experience, to share their struggles and thoughts. They believe posting their children’s pictures online would convey and boost their individualism and personality.

“Photographs of children also acquire social fame for parents if they receive a lot of likes, reactions or comments. It could also be done to curate the perfect image to reflect favourably on the parent’s reputation, which signifies their success in parenting and as a happy home creator,” he said.

Unfortunately, this also leads to negative consequences such as leaving the child exposed to cyber criminals and commercial exploitation.

“Seemingly innocent pictures, such as children in a bathtub or a child in a swimsuit or shorts can expose the children to predators, especially child sexual predators (paedophiles), and it can lead to ‘digital kidnapping’, where children’s photos from social media can be (downloaded) and posted on paedophile or pornographic websites,” he added.

“This can lead to more serious cyber or social media crimes such as identity theft and online grooming.”

Shankar added that while parents were not violating any law by posting such pictures online, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 deems the misuse of children’s photos as a crime.

“The Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 also covers aspects of sexual crimes such as grooming, molestation and child pornography,” he said.

Criminologist Dr Haezreena Begum said while the term paedophile is widely known to the public, many do not know that it is a type of mental disorder. Classified in DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR, which are diagnostic and statistical manuals of mental disorders such as paraphilia, she said paedophilia is characterised by persistent sexual attraction to prepubescent children.

“Paedophilia involves intense and recurrent sexual urges and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or intend to be acted upon.

“What causes it may originate from a myriad of factors. It can be the upbringing of the person, or he or she was sexually abused as a child. Perhaps he or she watched someone sexually abuse a child,” she said.

“It can also be caused by cultures such as child marriage, sexualisation of children in the media through beauty pageants and entertainment programmes. This sometimes blurs the line for a paedophile to see what is acceptable and what is not.”

Given that the internet is wide, uncontrollable and insufficiently policed by the authorities, any photo being posted online can easily be accessed and viewed by anyone around the world.

“Paedophiles can even create a profile for each child based on all information and pictures they can access on that child. That can keep their fantasy going and they can even share them with other paedophiles around the world,” Haezreena said.

“People underestimate the danger and damage they may cause to their children by sharing their photos. I have seen pictures of children naked being shared by parents online. The saddest part is that when we tell the parents to remove the pictures or to blur them, they just dismiss it and don’t consider their act harmful.”