MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Teach sex ed as many children unaware they're victims - judge


Children in the country ought to be taught sex education, a forum organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) heard today.

M Kunasundary, a Sessions Court judge assigned to the special court for sexual crimes against children, said she encountered many cases where victims did not realise they were sexually exploited or abused.

She said this was mainly due to the lack of education and awareness in the children.

“It will be wonderful that this point is taken up to the highest level,” she said during the panel discussion titled “Child Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse - Disrupting Harm in Malaysia”, referring to a suggestion that Malaysian children be taught sex education.

“We have children who do not know that they are sexually exploited, that they are sexually abused.

“And this is a very sad affair that they do not know what they have undergone, what they were asked to do... that what they have conducted themselves are all part of sexual exploitation and abuse.

“(Only) later when they realised they have been sexually exploited and abused, they will be so torn apart. You can see it in their eyes,” the judge said.

Kunasundary was among six experts invited to speak in the forum, held in conjunction with the launch of “Disrupting Harm in Malaysia”, a survey report on online child sexual exploitation and abuse in the country.

The other panellists were Andrea Varrella, a legal research coordinator with Ecpat International, Unicef research consultant Marium Hussein, Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia chairperson Kenny Kamal, Smita Mitra from Interpol, and Muhammad Amirul Hafiz Rosly from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

Knowing more about consent

During the earlier part of the discussion, Varrella pointed out the survey found that a majority of children in the country never received sex education.

She said many of the children also do not have any idea where they should go if they encountered sexual exploitation or abuse.

“That is why Disrupting Harm recommends sex education. It allows them to know more about consent, their body, body integrity, and body harm.

“And also to understand where and when they can say no, and that they should say no,” she said.

Varrella said awareness is even more important given today’s easy access to technology such as social media where sexual content can be shared.

Kenny, a social psychologist, said the pandemic also caused social media platforms to become fertile ground for sexual predators because of children’s dependency to be online for classes.

He said sexual exploitation and abuse today should not only be looked at from the physical context alone.

“Many of the children who are affected, when they have been a victim of online sexual exploitation and abuse, they have been psychologically affected in a great amount.

“We have seen in many instances when children were referred to us, they have detrimental effects on them. We shouldn’t focus on physical harm.

“The pandemic was a fertile ground for many sexual perpetrators, for them to look out for children because classes (were conducted) online. (There was a) significant increase in online sexual exploitation and abuse,” he said.

Protect victims in court

Meanwhile, on a related issue, Kunasundary also urged Malaysian lawmakers to protect victims of sexual abuse from being confronted in court.

She said there is currently no law that protects victims from being pressured by lawyers during cross-examination.

In most cases, she said children who came to testify against their alleged attackers were not accompanied by a legal companion and “did not have an inkling” of what they would face in court.

“When the child is posed with questions, especially during cross-examination, that is when the child’s worst nightmare starts.

“Now you have a child, who has gone through so much and the child has slowly forgotten that pain... now you rekindle the pain again in court by cross-examining the child from the beginning, then the trauma starts again,” she said.

She suggested that a ground rule is set where judges are given the opportunity to go through the questions that are to be posed to the victims before the trial begins.

According to the judge, there is also a standard operating procedure (SOP) which has been agreed upon by all law enforcement agencies when it comes to questioning a victim of sexual crime.

However, this SOP is not enforceable as it was not an act of Parliament, and thus lawyers are not required to oblige them when questioning victims in court.

Kunasundary said she had tried to stop a lawyer from pressuring a victim during cross-examination before, and reminded the lawyer that the victim is not an adult and there is the SOP for questioning them.

“He questioned me back and asked me, is it an act of Parliament? Of course, my answer will be in the negative.

“Now, if I were to go on further (to stop the lawyer), then I will be told that I’m not a neutral judge,” she said. - Mkini

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