Heed Wake-Up Call to Establish a Comprehensive National Child Protection Policy
The Malaysian Bar is aghast at the recent public disclosure that close to 200 young and vulnerable children, aged between 6 months and 12 years, were systematically sexually abused over a period of almost nine years between March 2006 and December 2014, by a British citizen residing in Malaysia.
All the children preyed upon by the paedophile, Richard Huckle — now branded “Britain’s worst paedophile” — were pre-pubescent vulnerable children from minority ethnic communities into which he had ingratiated himself. The paedophile was able to gain access to the children, including those living in shelter homes, by posing as a student, a photographer, an English teacher and/or a philanthropist. He offered to help with the children’s education, when in fact he was systematically abusing the children.
The paedophile was arrested by the United Kingdom’s National Crime Authority (“NCA”) on his arrival at Gatwick Airport in London in December 2014. He was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, 71 counts of child sex offences in the United Kingdom. On 7 June 2016, he was sentenced to 22 life sentences to be served concurrently. He now faces a minimum jail term of 23 years and 242 days.
In the ensuing public outrage at the horrific magnitude of his crimes, there have been strident calls by various parties for the establishment of a registry of sex offenders, the screening of foreign arrivals at immigration checkpoints, and extra vigilance when hiring foreigners as teachers.
The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has requested those with information to come forward or to ring up the Ministry’s “Talian Kasih” anonymously, and plans to conduct community programmes in the affected areas. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department YB Puan Hajah Nancy Shukri has stated that the necessary amendments are being made to strengthen laws relating to the protection of children. Polis Diraja Malaysia (“PDRM”) has reportedly established a Child Cyber Sexual Investigation Unit.
These measures by the Government are commendable. However, they do not go far enough to address the fact that for nine years, there was a paedophile living among us and preying upon our most defenceless children. He remained under the radar, and we, as a society, were seemingly oblivious to the harm that he was causing. It is perplexing that during this prolonged period of systematic abuse of so many children, no suspicions were aroused and no police reports were lodged by any of his victims, their families or the wider communities in which the children lived and attended school.
Furthermore, PDRM reportedly had no knowledge of the paedophile until recently, although the NCA had allegedly informed PDRM in November 2014. It is unclear why there was subsequently an apparent lack of police investigation and action against the paedophile.
The fact that a paedophile was able to operate with such wanton impunity on Malaysian soil demonstrates that sexual abuse of persons at risk is a more prevalent and entrenched problem than appreciated. It is therefore imperative that we go beyond short-term reactionary measures. We must investigate and identify the underlying factors and systemic or institutional weaknesses that allow such heinous acts to be perpetrated undetected, so that the causes can be dealt with effectively.
Malaysia, having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, is obliged to take all available measures to make sure that children are protected, and their rights are respected and upheld. To achieve this, we must urgently establish a comprehensive and holistic national child protection policy that places child protection at the forefront of our national consciousness, and implement it immediately to ensure that such evil will never recur. The policy must include concrete measures to:
(a) create awareness on the rights of children and our responsibilities in protecting them;
(b) improve our ability and capacity to detect, report, investigate and follow up on sex crimes against children; and
(c) ensure that our system of administration of justice is sensitive to the needs of the victims and their families, and metes out the appropriate punishment on the persons convicted.
Our social services, educational, health and legal systems, as well as the levels of funding, must be assessed. All necessary steps must be taken to help families protect children’s rights and create an environment where children can grow in good health and safety. It is no coincidence that the abused children belong to minority and marginalised communities, as perpetrators target the most helpless among us.
Only the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive and holistic national child protection policy will ensure that our children are shielded from harm, enjoy their childhood, and are able to thrive and fulfil their potential.
11 June 2016