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Starting from July 10, harsher punishments await child sexual predators.

 

The Sexual Offences against Children (SOAC) Act 2017 has been gazetted and is now in full force. The Act lays the groundwork for tougher punishments and requires more participation from the adults surroundings kids, giving the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” a whole new light.

Child sexual grooming, child pornography, sexual assault and more are addressed in this unprecedented Act. The implications are grave – perpetrators face tough punishments ranging from being fined to being jailed up to 30 years. Most importantly, anyone can be charged under this Act – and that means anyone of any age! It’s important for everyone to be aware of what the new Act involves.

We recorded a live discussion with Attorney General’s Chambers head of sexual and domestic unit Baizura Kamal, and lawyer and chairperson of Voice of the Children Sharmila Sekaran on an episode of The Couch.

What does the #SOAC2017 mean to the average Malaysian?

The SOAC places the burden of responsibility on any person to report if they have information of a crime. Witnessing a crime and not reporting it is an offence under the law, punishable up to RM5,000 in fines, not much but it works as an add-on to living with the guilt of having aided a sexual predator.  

Children are very impressionable, and it is on the parent to be aware of their actions around them. On The Couch: After The Law, Sharmila Sekaran shared an interesting anecdote – if a child walks in on a parent masturbating and later imitated the act, the parent may face grooming charges.

A child behaves through examples and would be unable to make up stories about being sexually violated. Parents, teachers and guardians need to be on alert if a child begins to act out for that may be symptoms of having been violated.

Sexual grooming is now a crime

The most important aspect of the act is that it criminalises sexual grooming against children, which is often a prelude to sexual abuse. “Befriended” a child with the intention to commit a sexual offence? You will be charged under the SOAC.

The perpetrators in the Predator in My Phone series however cannot be charged under the new act.

“Malaysian laws cannot be applied retrospectively,” explained Sharmila

“And we need to remember that someone like K-Boy will continue offending, he wasn’t being taught or told it’s wrong. It’s about getting him, and stopping this from happening,” she added.

So, what’s next after the law?

Sex is still a taboo, it is unimaginably uncomfortable for parents to discuss sex with their kids, BUT in the current climate, it is absolutely crucial to move beyond this barrier. Parents have to start the conversation with their kids to prepare them – to educate them on good & bad touch. They should also be on alert if kids decide to speak up about what has happened and learn the steps to take next.

There is a need to create a support system for victims; be it emergency hotlines or special counselling. Schools could function as training grounds to educate teachers, workers and students on the dangers of sexual grooming and what it would lead to.

The government has also established the Special Criminal court; a pilot program to handle specialised child sexual crimes cases, soon to be expanded to other states.


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