Child rights group lauds new law against livestreaming sex, hopes enforcement can keep up on tech side

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — The Malaysian government’s plan to further protect minors by criminalising livestreaming of sex and blackmailing children using sexual images was a welcome development, said an interest group.

Sharmila Sekaran, who chairs child advocacy group Voice of the Children (VoC), lauded Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said’s push for the new law changes.

Yesterday, Azalina said a Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament next Monday for three amendments to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, including changing the outdated term of “child pornography” to “child sexual abuse materials” in that law.

Why changing terms is important

Sharmila highlighted the significance of changing the term to “child sexual abuse materials”.

“For a start, we’re really happy that the minister is proposing amendments to the Bill: for example, with the terminology, it is important for all of us to understand that this is not child pornography (which may suggest some level of consent from the child, as with adult porn), but it is very much child sexual abuse and hence, child sexual abuse images/material lends greater acknowledgement of the abuse the child went through in the production of the videos/pictures,” she told Malay Mail when contacted.

In the Disrupting Harm in Malaysia report launched last September and produced by anti-child sexual exploitation network ECPAT International, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) with the Malaysian government’s support, it supported the use of the term “child sexual abuse material” instead of the term “child pornography”.

The report said this was in line with the Luxembourg Guidelines (otherwise known as The Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse). The Luxembourg Guidelines was developed by 18 international partners including the Interpol and various United Nations entities such as Unicef.

The Luxembourg Guidelines said pornography is a term primarily used for when adults are engaging in consensual sexual acts, which made the term “child pornography” problematic as it could suggest that the sexual acts were carried out with the child’s consent and risks trivialising or reducing the serious nature of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.

The Luxembourg Guidelines said what was labelled as so-called “child pornography” more accurately involved children who cannot consent to the sexual abuse that they are being subjected to and who may be victims of a crime.

On Interpol’s own website on the appropriate terminology for crimes against children where it pushed for the use of the term “child sexual abuse” to recognise the seriousness of sexual abuse against children, Interpol said: “When children are involved, it’s not porn. It’s abuse. It’s a crime.”

Enforcement and awareness on new offences

Welcoming the plan for the Bill next Monday to introduce new offences for livestreaming of sex and sexual extortion to protect children, Sharmila said this would help address the current lack of such laws under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act.

“Also, there are many other types of online sexual abuse or violations of the child which may not be adequately covered under the existing Act, for example, streaming of child sex acts, sexual extortion, etc.

“So, enhancing the offences is important because there are many children who are violated in these different ways who may not be able to lodge a complaint,” she said.

While VoC welcomed the government’s efforts for those law reforms, Sharmila said the police’s cybercrime unit would have to work with other international bodies to be able to apprehend perpetrators.

“However, it is also important that investigation and forensics by the enforcement agencies is able to keep up with the terminology and technology so that perpetrators are brought to trial and sentenced.

“This will also require collaboration between our enforcement agencies (including the cyber crime unit) and Interpol and enforcement agencies from other countries,” Sharmila said.

“In the same way that the police have ramped up their public awareness on online fraud, together with the Ministry of Communications & Digital, there needs to be more public awareness on online sexual abuse of children.

“But it is also important that where the perpetrator is a child, s/he is not criminalised, but there is a scheme or system to ensure that the child perpetrator is protected and brought to understand why/what they are doing is an offence,” she added.

Azalina yesterday said the proposed new offence of livestreaming sex would cover actions such as directly participating, promoting, organising, directing the abuse or receiving money, with the proposed penalties to be a maximum 20 years’ jail, as well as a maximum RM50,000 fine

Azalina also said the government will also propose a 10-year jail term for offenders of the proposed new offence of sexual extortion, where sexual images of a child are used to blackmail the child into sending money, more photos or videos or have sex with the perpetrator.

As part of the Bill on Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 next Monday, the government also plans to enable the courts to order sexual offenders to pay compensation to their child victims.

The government is also planning to table a separate Bill next Monday to amend the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007.

The planned three amendments to the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 are: To redefine the term “child witness” to refer to those below the age of 18 instead of the current definition of below the age of 16; to give the court the power to stop lawyers from asking improper questions to children who are testifying in court, and to allow for the pre-recording of a video of a child’s entire court testimony which would enable the child to not go to court for the trial.