The Women’s Centre For Change (WCC) welcomes the proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 recently announced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Azalina Othman Said, including the introduction of specific offences of sexual livestreaming and extortion, and pre-recording the entire testimony of child witnesses to avoid them having to attend the trial.
Rising online sexual violence against children is of utmost concern. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, WCC has been documenting cases involving online violence against women in children.
In 2021, 14 per cent out of 187 cases of domestic and sexual violence cases WCC handled involved online violence, especially online grooming of children leading to sexual assault, harassment, and the taking and circulation of intimate images such as photographs and videos without consent.
In 2022, the percentage of such cases we handled had risen to 15.3 per cent (28 out of 183 cases). This year, a disturbing trend we have noticed among secondary school students is the widespread circulation of photographs and mobile phone numbers of teenage girls via WhatsApp to strangers in different chat groups, which leads to the sexual abuse of these girls not just by adult men, but also by teenage boys.
However, securing digital evidence during the investigation stage of such offences is a major challenge.
Even without the amendments to introduce sexual livestreaming and extortion, from our experience, accused persons are seldom charged under the existing Section 12 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 on child grooming.
This could be due to the fact that, despite such grooming being a hallmark of child sexual abuse, it often occurs online which may make evidence difficult to capture.
Hence, it is imperative that legislative amendments intending to better protect children against online sexual abuse and exploitation, including new offences such as sexual livestreaming, be backed up with the necessary technical support in practice, including the following:
At the investigation stage, capacity within the police force, including the necessary infrastructure, equipment, knowledge, skills, and human resources, needs to be beefed up in order to give full effect to the implementation of these laws.
This will also require the cooperation of multiple agencies and stakeholders including the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Internet Service Providers, and IT forensics experts.
Similarly, video live link facilities for the recording of children’s evidence, including those in courts, are an important technical resource.
Of 35 cases of sexual crimes involving children in the Penang courts which WCC supported between 2018 and August 2022, 86 per cent showed that no application had been made for the use of video live link in court; in 74 per cent of cases, only a screen (physical barrier between the accused and victim) was used which does little to reduce the fear and trauma experienced by the child victim.
Video facilities need to be properly maintained by the courts, and both the courts and prosecutors must work towards consistent usage of such facilities to ensure that the child can testify as comfortably as possible.
We call upon the government to ensure that the necessary funding, infrastructure, good practices, and technical support be put into place in order to ensure that these positive legal changes can be properly implemented to safeguard children’s rights. Otherwise, they will remain on paper without practical effect.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.