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Sarawak women group calls for further action after law amendments to better protect children passed

Publish date: Sun, 02 Apr 2023, 06:03 PM

KUCHING, April 2 — Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) has called on all parties to immediately implement changes and continue refining legislation to meet international best practices following the recently-passed amendments to two Acts to better protect children from child sexual abuse.

According to a press release, the first set of changes were to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 (SOAC) which had been enacted in the wake of the discovery that Richard Huckle had groomed and abused over 200 children when based in Kuala Lumpur.

While the passing of this law was progressive, it had limitations some of which the amendments had addressed, said SWWS in the statement today.

With the new Section 15A, SWWS said the country will be better equipped to tackle the life-streaming of sexual performances of children which has become more prevalent.

Now those who organise, host or are middle men or syndicates can be prosecuted as well as those who watch or engage in sexual acts with children on-line, it added.

Another change, according to SWWS, is replacing the term ‘child pornography’ with the more accurate and wider term of ‘child sexual abuse material’, enabling more to be charged and making it clear to all that this is abusive mistreatment of children.

“The final amendment to this Act is to make it easier and more effective for children to be compensated by enabling the Court immediately after sentencing to have the discretion to order the perpetrator to make such compensation and for these payments to have priority over any fines due to the Court.

“Compensation, in addition to the physical and emotional distress caused, can be paid for rehabilitation and treatment costs needed to help the child and family deal with the consequences of the abuse,” it pointed out.

The second set of amendments, SWWS said, were to the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 (ECWA) which were needed to address the vulnerability of children in court which put them at a disadvantage in court procedures.

For there to be justice to all, including the accused, SWWS asserted that there needs to be a power balance which is fair to all parties.

Therefore, the new amendments disallow improper questioning of children by the defence council, such as those that mislead, confuse, or humiliate the child, and enables ‘special hearings’ to be called so the child’s whole testimony, not just the current option of the police interview video, can be held away from the court so they are not intimidated by being in the presence of the accused, explained SWWS.

It said the other amendment defines a child as anyone under 18, instead of under 16, so it is in keeping with the Child Act of 2001 and the United Nations (UN) Convention of the Child.

“All these measures are steps in the right direction but will require training and resources to be effective across all states. For instance, the recent capture of one of the world’s most wanted paedophiles operating on the dark web from Lundu was first detected by police outside of the country.

“While our police have been commended for their actions once informed, they need the equipment and personnel to detect those life-streaming sexual performances on the web. Training will also be required by all questioning children including the judges who will be determining what is proper or improper for children of different development ages, including children with special needs.

“A further complication is how to be fair to children who are charged under SOAC for consensual boyfriend/girlfriend activity. While it is worrying some teens unwisely share intimate photos of each other this is not why the Act was brought onto the statute books.

“Currently, we have no way of knowing how many of the 260 cases investigated in Sarawak under SOAC between enactment and 2021 were in the context of a romantic teen relationship and how many because the perpetrator was intent on abusing the child either immediately or through a process of grooming,” said SWWS.

As such, it hoped that in addition to ensuring the new amendments are enforced effectively across the board, measures will also be taken to enable more investigation and successful prosecution of abuse by adults, especially online, and that all children are dealt with in ways appropriate to their age and context.

“In addition to strong, just laws action is also needed on prevention especially educating our children to recognise grooming and abuse — both online and off — and having child friendly, accessible means to report,” SWWS added.

Those who are interested in learning more about training children on personal safety can contact SWWS via email or call/text 013-804 4285. — Borneo Post

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