Parents need to do their jobs, activist says after study on kids watching porn

PETALING JAYA: A child rights activist has urged parents to boost efforts to monitor their children’s online activities following a study showing that almost 80% of Malaysian youth want to watch pornography.

Sharmila Sekaran, the chairman of non-profit group Voice of the Children, said parents should become more “internet savvy” in order to teach their children how to safely surf the Web.

She was responding to the study by Malaysians Against Pornography which revealed that a majority of children aged 10 to 17 have intentionally watched porn, with 98% aged 13 to 17 being victims of online grooming.

The group’s head, Dr Shamsuriani Md Jamal, advised parents to keep a close watch over their children’s social media activities.

She said those involved in online grooming would create fake social media accounts to befriend youngsters and get them to send nude pictures or engage in sexual acts on camera.

“Parents need to educate and warn their children against accepting unknown friend requests because people online can pose as anyone they want,” she said.

Sharmila, who is also a lawyer, agreed that parents are responsible for knowing “what is happening in their child’s life”, both online and offline.

She advised parents to learn how to use firewalls and to educate their children on “good internet etiquette and safety”, adding that children sometimes unintentionally stumble upon porn on the Web.

“Parents need to ‘parent’ their children by teaching, nurturing, speaking, listening and guiding, in all aspects of a child’s life.

“They can’t just leave the child and suddenly swoop in when they are teenagers.”

She added that such behaviour is not about parents snooping into their children’s activities, but rather ensuring their safety which she said outweighs concerns about privacy.

“This is not to say there won’t be any rebellion. But the bigger picture demands that parents be involved so they can put in place structures and boundaries from when their child is young,” she said, adding that these boundaries would change as the child grows.

“You’d supervise a seven-year-old having a bath, but not a 15-year-old.”

Sharmila said government and school authorities can also help by putting in place sexual and reproductive health modules, with assistance from other avenues as well, including telcos and internet service providers.

“Children and teenagers are going to learn about sex one way or another, so either we teach them in a formal and controlled, safe setting from young, or we allow them to learn through the internet,” she said.

Sabah-based medical practitioner Dr John Teo meanwhile said sexual grooming by sexting, or sending sexually explicit messages through text messages, does not stem only from regular access to porn.

Teo, an expert on teenage pregnancy, said there are multiple approaches to reducing such activities, including introducing sex education in schools.

Others include raising community awareness and engagement on the dangers of internet access, and educating parents and teachers on digital and social media literacy for all.

“The problem of online pornography and its ill effects on adolescence is not an isolated issue.

“A holistic approach is needed, combining multiple strategies to enable our youth to have a healthy future,” he said.

Putrajaya has urged the study organisers to reveal its methodology, including how the study was done, its sample size, and how it obtained its “worrying conclusions”.

However, details of the survey are not yet publicly available.