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Use the Sexual Offences Against Children Act As Intended

Sarawak Women for Women Society, Press Release

Use the Sexual Offences Against Children Act As Intended

Back in 2017 Malaysia was hailed for passing progressive legislation to protect children from sexual predators.

The country had been rocked by the news that the serial paedophile Richard Huckle from Britain had operated undetected for years in KL with it being estimated he had abused 200 girls in Malaysia and elsewhere.  A further shock was the video taken by young Malaysian undercover journalists of local men using social media to befriend young girls with the intention of entrapping them into sexual encounters.  

The Government acted quickly and passed The Sexual Offences Against Children (SOAC) Act.  From the outset the intention of the Act was clear – it was to protect children from adults including those operating on the dark web distributing child pornography. It was not meant to criminalise activity of a sexual nature between consenting teens beyond existing laws and those who had lobbied for the Act were reassured by the Attorney General’s Chambers that discretion would be used when both were children.

Yet, recently in Sibu two teens, 15 and 16 years old, in what appears to have been a consensual relationship, have been charged under this Act for the boy touching the girl on her breasts and the girl then sending him a photo of the encounter. This youthful indiscretion has surprisingly been classified as ‘self-production’ of child pornography.

Sarawak Women for Women Society is very concerned by this interpretation and calls for more training for police and the public prosecution department on this new act, so its implementation meets the original intentions, and that they are given the resources needed to catch paedophiles. 

“Sharing an intimate photo with her boyfriend is not what was in the legislators mind when they drafted Section 5 to catch paedophiles,” said Gill Raja a member of Sarawak Women for Women Society who has worked in the field of child protection. “The Act is there for the police to go after individuals and sophisticated criminal networks who are exploiting children, it is not to catch teens who are learning how to handle their sexual urges. This is clear as the maximum sentence is 30 years and 6 strokes for producing pornography. We need to equip the police so they are better able to catch such predators wherever they lurk”.  

The young teens pleaded guilty and are now awaiting a welfare report before appearing in court again.  As they are under 18 they are subject to the Child Act as amended in 2016. This legislation was amended to help authorities divert children away from custodial sentencing to being guided in their own communities. In the spirit of this legislation such behaviour should not result in children being brought before the courts.

SWWS calls on all parties to have a better understanding of the intentions behind both Acts and helpfully guide our youth rather than use such heavy handed measures when no abuse has taken place.  More appropriate is to give teens training on how to form healthy, respectful relationships; avoid the risk of teenage pregnancy; to know the dangers of using social media and most importantly to have adults willing to listen to them empathetically and help them find their way in life.