KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 — How can Malaysia’s police better protect children and go after offenders who commit sexual abuse of children online? And how can you help?
Bukit Aman’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division’s (D11) principal assistant director Assistant Commissioner of Police Siti Kamsiah Hassan said the biggest obstacles facing her division include training of the small team of police officers dedicated to fighting online sexual crimes against children.
“Among the challenges that we face in tackling crimes involving technology is the expertise of the existing police officers.
“We are still at the stage of not being that skilled because when it involves technology, we need specific training for them,” she told Malay Mail in an interview, referring to training such as on technical skills in obtaining evidence from online and from devices.
She said D11’s Malaysia Internet Crime Against Children (MICAC) is a small unit — officially staffed just one-and-a-half year ago — that still needs to be trained in terms of digital forensic work and is still lacking in terms of logistics and tools to extract and analyse evidence online.
For example, based on D11’s statistics provided to Malay Mail for the period of 2018 to November 27, 2023, only 25,243 out of 248,166 locally-registered Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — that were tipped off from international sources to Malaysian police as having accessed child sexual abuse material (CSAM or formerly known as child pornography) and can be used to track down offenders — were selected to have the CSAM downloaded to be kept as evidence.
D11 told Malay Mail that the reason why only a certain number was downloaded despite the high number of tip-offs was due to the “limited internet and logistics capacity”.)
Siti Kamsiah also pointed to the challenges and complexities in obtaining evidence from foreign-based servers or administrators of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which may require the police to go through an intermediary such as the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Other challenges are the differences in the law in different countries that could make obtaining evidence more difficult, such as when as an act is criminal in Malaysia but not an offence in other countries, she said.
The long arm of the law against Malaysians who commit crimes against children abroad
Section 3 of the Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017 states that even when a Malaysian commits sexual offences against children outside of Malaysia, this person would be dealt with as if the offence were committed within the country. (In other words, Section 3 allows the law to have “extra-territorial application” in such situations.)
Regardless of whether the child victim is a citizen of Malaysia or foreigner, Section 3 means Malaysian police could carry out investigations in Malaysia against the Malaysian offender and the offender can also be charged in Malaysia, Siti Kamsiah said.
“For example, a coach who brings children to play football overseas, the coach carries out physical sexual assault on the victim while overseas, and we can investigate that offence here because the coach is Malaysian.
“As long as the person who commits crimes against children overseas is a Malaysian, we can investigate here and can charge here. The same goes for if a victim is from overseas, if the crime is committed overseas, as long as the suspect is a Malaysian citizen,” she said.
For online crimes involving a suspect in Malaysia and a victim located abroad, police may need to work with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) for mutual legal assistance from agencies abroad to obtain evidence from the victim for investigations, she said.
Asked whether the police would be able to act against a non-Malaysian suspect who commits sexual offences against children, Siti Kamsiah said such action can be taken against such suspects only if the offence is committed in Malaysia.
On January 8, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said that crimes of online sexual exploitation of children is a cross-border issue, and noted that Section 3 enables legal action on Malaysians who carry out such crimes while outside of Malaysia.
Azalina had also said that the Malaysian government is currently carrying out studies on expanding the law to cover any individual outside of Malaysia who carry out sexual crimes against Malaysian children, with the intention to give better legal protection to Malaysian child victims regardless of the perpetrator’s geographical location.
How RM13 million from government helped
Siti Kamsiah said the MICAC unit was informally set up in 2018, with only three D11 officers being pulled in to do such additional work as no posts existed yet.
She said MICAC could only be officially staffed and set up in June 2022, after the creation of 56 posts nationwide for this unit — through a special RM13 million government allocation in 2022 for D11.
(In the federal government’s Budget 2022 speech, then finance minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz in October 2021 announced the RM13 million allocation to strengthen D11 “in addition to creating 100 new posts”.)
“So, the RM13 million we break down into three main initiatives — first, to create MICAC posts; second, buying equipment to enhance interviews of children; third for awareness campaigns,” Siti Kamsiah said, adding that the RM13 million budget has been fully utilised.
Part of the RM13 million was used to improve facilities, information and communication technology (ICT) and recording equipment at Child Interview Centres (CIC) — where D11 interviews child victims (in cases not only limited to MICAC investigations).
Asked if there was sufficient funding for 2023, Siti Kamsiah explained that the RM13 million allocation in the government’s budget for 2022 was a one-off allocation, and that there is no specific annual allocation for D11.
Typically, the federal government allocates funding in its budget every year to different ministries — which then further channels such government funding to different agencies within the ministries — instead of specifying the amount to be received by agency divisions such as the D11 division.
In a November 11, 2021 parliamentary reply, the Home Ministry told Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh that Bukit Aman’s Criminal Investigation Department — which has 15 divisions including D11 — was allocated over RM33 million for 2021, and that 1.63 per cent or RM543,394 of this amount was distributed to the D11. The Home Ministry also said it had proposed for RM17 million to be allocated in Budget 2022 for the D11 unit for purposes such as creating 148 new posts.
Siti Kamsiah said the funding amount required by D11 is growing every year, as the division has a wide role in tackling crimes involving children and women such as cases of domestic violence, abuse and sexual offences, and as regular training of all D11 officers nationwide would involve significant costs.
While MICAC’s role is more on information analysis, intelligence gathering, and raiding for inspections, Siti Kamsiah said the entire D11 division also needs training regarding cases of sexual offences against children, as the division’s officers who are not in the MICAC unit are also involved during such investigations.
“So, the budget is required for everyone, training is not just for MICAC only, the training is also for all other officers,” she said.
What kind of training do D11 officers need?
Siti Kamsiah said all D11 officers would need various training such as on interpersonal and communication skills, knowing how to approach a victim and identifying whether a victim is ready to record a statement with the police, and how to interview child victims.
Besides needing to be well-versed with the law, the police officers would also need to be trained on how to carry out covert intelligence and undercover work in the dark web, with Siti Kamsiah saying that the MICAC unit still lacks officers with such expertise as it is still new.
Siti Kamsiah said the latest trends is for private groups online to offer child sexual abuse materials to members, and noted that these groups pose difficulties in terms of gathering of evidence.
Siti Kamsiah confirmed that there are already local trainers who could provide the training required to police officers, such as via the training of trainers (TOT) model where police officers who attend overseas training would return to train other officers or where training is based on past investigation experiences.
Training is also conducted with the involvement of other government agencies such as the Attorney General’s Chambers such as for prosecution aspects or how evidence would be obtained, she said.
She said international training was also important to enable Malaysian police to adopt the best practices from other countries and identify areas for improvement.
For international training, D11 would send officers abroad for training such as by law enforcement agencies (such as the Australian Federal Police, the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US’s Homeland Security Investigations, and Canadian police) or the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).
Only 56 now assigned specifically for online crimes against children
Currently, the D11 unit has 911 positions for personnel nationwide, including only 56 personnel nationwide for D11’s MICAC unit.
Siti Kamsiah said MICAC needs more officers, noting that it only has dozens of personnel (including both officers and low-ranking personnel) at the federal headquarters Bukit Aman while there are only one or two of such officers at each state contingent.
She noted that officers hold wider powers including to enter premises for raids, while lower-ranking personnel’s limited investigative powers could hamper investigations when there is a lack of officers.
When asked how many more officers would be required by the MICAC unit, Siti Kamsiah said the current 56 positions are sufficient to “start the ball rolling” for now, with any increases to be based on current needs in the future.
“But for the way forward, in the few years to come, what I see is that MICAC will certainly need three or four officers and personnel in each state — it can’t be just one person, at least three or four persons based on the size of the state, such as Selangor, maybe we need more personnel,” she said, citing the current trend and development of ICT within the next few years.
Even for the entire D11 division, more personnel will be needed, as currently only 10 per cent of the districts have D11 investigating officers, she said.
Amid a global trend of exponential growth in suspected online child sexual exploitation with 32 million such reports worldwide in 2022 to the US-based non-profit organisation National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) alone, Malaysian police have also experienced a drastic spike in tip-offs of locally-registered IP addresses which accessed CSAM — from just 2,660 in 2018 to 119,825 in 2023 (January to November 27).
During the same period from 2018 to November 27, 2023, a total of 251 raids were carried out and 109 arrests were made on the 248,383 IP addresses tipped off, based on D11 statistics provided to Malay Mail.
Such data underscores the urgent need to boost resources for the Malaysian police to tackle online sexual crimes against children, as it could for example help in preventing those who accessed CSAM online from committing further sexual crimes against children.
Teaching the public about preventing and handling sexual crimes against children
Apart from needing more personnel and more funds for training, D11 also needs funds to spread the word to the public to prevent and tackle sexual crimes against children.
Siti Kamsiah said D11 carries out awareness campaigns on sexual offences against children upon invitations by non-governmental organisations like Yayasan Chow Kit for the Chow Kit, or based on the police’s own initiative for targeted groups and communities.
“We go to Orang Asli villages, tahfiz centres because these sexual crimes can happen anywhere. We go there because they lack exposure, they don’t know that there are support systems.
“Maybe the children do not know it is wrong if people do this; or they don’t know there is the Social Welfare Department; they don’t know the police can help and how, the hospital can help and how.
“We give them awareness, we educate them what is a crime, what are the risks present in their surroundings, what they should do, how is the legal process, who can help them, how they can get out from that situation, that is what we educate the public,” she said, adding that the police also carries out such campaigns in schools.
But the scale of such awareness campaigns would be limited based on available manpower and funding, with Siti Kamsiah suggesting that the public and non-governmental organisations could instead be the organiser of such events while the police provide talks there.
Funding is required for such campaigns for various efforts such as bringing in therapy tools for children and experts who can carry out psychological tests as well as speakers, and to provide for transport costs for the target groups or to travel to reach out to them, she said.
Siti Kamsiah said the police also needs cooperation from both local or international non-government organisations such as in terms of sharing resources or psychological or medical expertise, or to facilitate contact with D11 or other agencies.
She said the public could help in tackling sexual crimes against children by lodging police reports of such cases and also cooperating with the police during investigations.