Thursday, May 19, 2022

Malaysia, a haven for paedophiles?

Existing weaknesses in the system, coupled with the reopening of borders, give rise to concerns.

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Malaysia may be at risk of becoming a hub for sexual crime activities against children given its weaknesses in addressing the existing problems which leave the door open to paedophiles, predators and child sexual offenders.

In arguably the country’s most prolific case in recent memory, British citizen Richard Huckle was arrested in 2014 and convicted two years later of 71 charges of serious sexual offences against children.

They were all committed during his time working as a freelance photographer around the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

Last year, meanwhile, Sarawakian Alladin Lanim was sentenced to 48 and a half years in jail after being caught with thousands of child pornographic images and videos on his mobile phone.

And in the UK, Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin who had been studying mathematics at Imperial College London was jailed for five years in 2015 for the possession of more than 30,000 images and videos of children.

Many of the question marks surrounding Malaysia’s management of such cases stem from the public empathy from some quarters for those caught and convicted of the offences.

Nur Fitri, for example, entered the limelight once more when it emerged that he was continuing his studies at a public university in Bangi, Selangor.

Social media users voiced concern over the safety of children in the area, given Nur Fitri’s history and conviction. However, his PhD supervisor was reported as saying that he was clever and well-behaved, giving rise to the perception that all is well – as long as you’re smart.

Statistics from 2010, provided by former education minister Mahdzir Khalid, showed 15 reports of molestation on the part of teachers during that year alone.

All 15 teachers were transferred from their original schools but still allowed to teach.

MalaysiaNow is still waiting for the most recent numbers from the education ministry.

In 2019, former Tenaganita co-director, the late Aegile Fernandez, said many foreign paedophiles had begun coming to Malaysia following crackdowns in other countries.

A year later, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and international borders throughout the world were slammed shut.

But the restrictions on movements did not mean an end to paedophiliac offences.

Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said complaints concerning child sexual offences had continued after March 2020, when the first movement control order was imposed, up until last year.

These were not many in number, she told MalaysiaNow – “Some, several cases,” she added.

“A few emails came to us saying there were suspicions of paedophilia, child trafficking, sex trafficking, and we reported these to the police.”

In some of these cases, Interpol and Bukit Aman’s Special Branch were also involved.

Now, with Malaysia’s borders open once more, the concern is that foreign paedophiles will begin making their way to the country again.

“They are not Malaysians, we know that they are foreigners,” Glorene said. “Many of them are from Australia and Britain, and European countries.

“They can come to Malaysia and live like kings and queens. They don’t go through scrutiny from the immigration like the Bangladesh and other migrant workers who are suspected and detained.”

It is this mindset, according to Glorene, that has “backfired” on the country.

“We assume that they are professionals and so on,” she said. But in the end, it is the children who suffer.

Access

In Malaysia, child pornography can be accessed with just the click of a button. Chat rooms abound with names like “schoolkids”, “sexy kids” and “cute kids”.

The issue was compounded during the pandemic, with Malaysia eventually being listed as one of the countries with the highest rate of child pornography searches.

The Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department also documented an increase in activities linked to child pornography.

Social activist Mohd Fairuz Abu said many parents were unaware of the dangers to their own families.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said some parents would upload pictures of their children that could be accessed by anyone on the internet. Usual suspects include celebrities who create social media accounts for their children, unknowingly opening them to the risk of paedophiliac activities.

There are also parents who fall for scams by individuals claiming to be doctors who ask for pictures of their children, purportedly to provide a medical diagnosis.

“If the person then spreads these pictures on porn sites, what then?” he said.

“This is the problem – it is difficult to control when parents themselves are not aware.”

The fate of the missing

There is also the question of the thousands of children who have vanished over the years.

From 2017 to Sept 1, 2021 alone, 4,471 children were reported as missing. Whether their fate can be tied to paedophiliac offences is a separate matter. But for Glorene, questions must still be asked.

“It is important for us to be aware,” she said. “We cannot just say, a child went missing, the child didn’t come back. We need to go deeper. Why it happened, case by case.”

Unfortunately, even when questions are asked, it doesn’t necessarily result in a happy ending.

“Some stories are closed halfway, and we never know the ending,” Glorene said.

“If we could share the stories, the outcomes of investigations, it would tell us what the problems in our system are. Exposing this would mean exposing our failed system.

“This is why we’re not talking about it. But that does not mean that it is not happening.”

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