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By MOHD AL-HAFIZ

CHILD sexual crimes have been rampant across Malaysia, and everyone has to play a part in stopping them, according to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman.

Azalina has been a vocal supporter of R.AGE’s #MPsAgainstPredators campaign, which aims to push for new laws against child sexual crimes, especially online crimes like child sexual grooming.

She brought up the issue in Parliament last Wednesday, and reiterated her plans to table a Child Sexual Crimes Bill, which was drafted by the sexual crimes task force she’s currently heading.

So far, over 30 Members of Parliament from the government and opposition have shown their support for the Bill on social media (just search #MPsAgainstPredators on Facebook or Twitter!), but for the Bill to become law, around 150 MPs have to support it.

And getting the Bill passed would just be the beginning of a long battle against child sexual grooming. Here’s what Azalina had to say about the issue.

R: What are the challenges you‘re facing in getting the Child Sexual Crimes Bill passed in Parliament?
One of the biggest challenges we’re facing is the need for Members of Parliament (MPs) to understand the urgency of this law.

There are a lot of cases happening out there every day. It’s not just about having a great law. It’s also about getting convictions and bringing results to the court system.

That’s why I mentioned a special children’s court on sexual crimes (during the debate).

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One of the things that affects me personally is the issue of the “circle of trust”.

It’s one thing when the perpetrator is an outsider. When children become victims, there’s an expectation that the family members will take them to the authorities. But if a family member is the perpetrator, they may not take them to the authorities.

Civil society must be our eyes and the ears, and play a more aggressive role in assisting children out there when they become victims of sexual crimes.

R: What are your thoughts on the recent case where a teacher was transferred for allegedly molesting nine students?
This is exactly what I mean by circle of trust.

That’s why a holistic understanding of this issue is so important, not just for the regulators, but also for the police, and the MPs themselves. That’s why I said it’s not about passing the law, it’s about implementing the law. Making sure there is no fear and no favour, and these people get punished, especially those in the circle of trust.

R: How will the bill tackle cases where people are abused by people in positions of trust?
There must be very strict requirements on the seriousness of evidence-taking.

We must also look into the possibility of a third-party reporting – by teachers or neighbours, for example – because if the accused is someone in the circle of trust, there is a high possibility the authorities may not see the seriousness of the complaint.

For example, if someone notices something’s not right, don’t just leave it to first-hand reporting by immediate family members.

Child sexual crimes that involve those in the circle of trust are usually repeat cases, because they know no one is going to do anything about it.

There must be a wider definition of things, like rape. It should not necessarily just mean (penile) penetration.

I’ll have to persuade the cabinet ministers and get civil society to participate. It’s going to be a long process. But what’s important is that the public knows the government takes sexual crimes against children very seriously. That’s a good start.

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R: What are your thoughts on the other MPs’ reactions to the MPs Against Predators campaign so far?
Your newspaper is doing a good job making them understand that this is a very serious matter.

It’s not about what Barisan Nasional is doing, or what the opposition is doing. It’s about what we are doing for the future of the country and the future of our children.

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