Unicef alarmed by tweets selling child sex

Online sexual exploitation of children remains a problem despite government efforts to tackle the situation.

PETALING JAYA: The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has denounced the marketing of sex services involving children through a Twitter account that has since been suspended.

“Lax enforcement of laws have allowed exploitation and abuse of children online to continue with impunity,” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, Unicef’s representative in Malaysia.

The offending tweets show pictures of Malaysian boys of between 13 and 15 years old. They originated from an account selling pornography and sex services.

One such tweet tells users RM20 would buy them membership in various WhatsApp groups that will enable them to chat with boys and view videos of gay porn.

Those who want to get in direct touch with the boys can drop the user a personal message. Users can also voice call the owner of the Twitter account for RM50.

Most of these tweets have been deleted, but one user has archived some of them. This user said he had lodged a complaint with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

MCMC has received the complaint, a spokesman told FMT.

Clark-Hattingh said there was increasing evidence that paedophiles were turning to Malaysia and some other countries now that neighbouring countries like Thailand and the Philippines have tightened controls to protect children from sexual predators.

“In Malaysia, the Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017 provides a critical legal framework that encompasses such offences, including online grooming and child pornography,” she said.

“But we know that laws alone are not enough.”

She spoke of the importance of good parenting in determining when a child can have online experiences, saying Unicef was emphasising this in its work to protect children in the region.

Mariza Abdulkadir, executive director of an NGO called P.S. The Children, said she was aware of groups on social networking apps that target children and make viral their pictures and personal information.

She said all children, regardless of social background, were at risk, and not just those who were tech-savvy.

“There isn’t actually a certain demographic,” she told FMT.

She said the pictures of some of the children could have been stolen online. “A lot of the time, children do not know that their pictures are being exploited for sexual purposes.”

She urged those coming across such materials to immediately lodge a report with the police or MCMC.

However, she said such reports would not be enough if efforts were not made to educate parents and children about sexual grooming and abuse.

She acknowledged that the government was “doing all it can” to resolve the issue of online sexual exploitation of children and that Women, Family and Community Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Ismail and her deputy, Hannah Yeoh, had been working on it since they took office.