Look out for signs of child sex trafficking, Unicef tells Malaysians

PETALING JAYA: The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (Unicef) has urged the Malaysian public to help wipe out child sex trafficking, adding that it isn’t the responsibility of Putrajaya alone to deal with this menace.

This follows an FMT report quoting civil society group Tenaganita as saying that the demand for sex with children was growing in Malaysia following crackdowns on the child sex trade in neighbouring countries.

In a statement to FMT tonight, Unicef representative to Malaysia Marianne Clark-Hattingh said her organisation was not aware of any data that reflects the trend as this issue was still largely invisible.

“Lack of data and research keeps child sex trafficking under the radar and difficult to measure,” Clark-Hattingh said, adding there was a need to enhance this and the “capacity of justice sector professionals”.

However, she said that Putrajaya is not the only stakeholder responsible for curbing child sex trafficking, and urged hotels, travel and transport operators to better understand how children were trapped in this trade.

Marianne Clark-Hattingh.

Individuals should also lodge police reports when they suspect a child could be a victim of trafficking, as should community members when they notice that a child has gone missing, she added.

“We need to keep in mind that the perpetrators of sexual abuse against children can be anyone — both foreigners and Malaysians,” she said.

She added Putrajaya has made significant progress in the past few years in protecting children against sex trafficking, referring to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act, passed in 2017.

But while this landmark legislation has come a long way in addressing some of the gaps related to sexual offences against children, laws alone are not sufficient to keep them safe.

To that effect, Unicef is partnering with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to raise awareness about the risks and threats that children face online, including commercial exploitation.

Unicef will also be part of regional research on child online safety to better understand the nature of the risks and threats that children experience online and how to better design policy and mechanisms.

“Services like helplines and counselling services to child victims to seek assistance when they face abuse and exploitation exist in Malaysia but they need to be strengthened,” Clark-Hattingh said.

“Unicef continues to work with the government to strengthen their skills and expertise in addressing child sexual abuse. Unicef stands ready to support the government in collecting consistent data.”

Recently, Tenaganita co-director Aegile Fernandez said syndicates are constantly hunting for children in rural or poor urban areas. They included boys from broken homes who can be lured with offers of high-paying jobs.

Once in their clutches, the children are put to work on the streets, either begging or touting for sex, with some even getting their organs extracted and dumped on the streets when they are no longer of use.

Putrajaya has since said that sex education is still largely taboo among Malaysians. It is now part of the physical education subject in schools but the syllabus is being revised to be more effective.