MALAYSIA—The latest amendments to Sexual Offences Against Children (SOAC) Act 2017 and Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 come after the publication of the Disrupting Harm in Malaysia report in September 2022, and will strengthen children’s protection from online sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Disrupting Harm in Malaysia study, which was conducted by ECPAT International, INTERPOL, and the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, highlighted critical gaps in current laws that left children vulnerable to certain forms of online sexual exploitation and abuse. Findings from the study also emphasised an urgent need for more child-friendly approaches when seeking justice.
Following the report’s publication, the third reading of the Bill was passed in Parliament to criminalise live-streaming of sexual acts involving children, sexual extortion of children, and replace the term “child pornography” with the more appropriate “child sexual abuse materials” (as explained in the Luxembourg Guidelines). Offenders will be also obliged by to pay child victims compensation for costs associated with counselling, medical, and rehabilitation services.
Datuk Dr. Raj Karim, Chair of End CSEC Network Malaysia (ECPAT Malaysia), a member of ECPAT International, lauded the amendments as much-needed changes:
“With the recent amendments, Malaysia’s laws against online child sexual exploitation and abuse will be more closely aligned with international standards. We are encouraged by these positive changes and will continue to support the government with recommendations from Disrupting Harm research.”
Child-sensitive justice is critical to ensuring children feel comfortable and safe when disclosing and seeking justice for sexual exploitation and abuse. As part of the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007, the bill introduces provisions for child-friendly hearings, which includes allowing for pre-recorded testimonies from children and empowering judges to stop lawyers from asking improper questions to children.
While the amendments to the SOAC Act 2017 and Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 represent an important step towards stronger laws against online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Malaysia, Dr. Raj remarked that “the legislation alone will not protect children”:
“We need an integrated, coordinated, and multi-agency systems approach that encompasses all aspects of prevention, awareness, and response. We need to strengthen the capacity of service providers, provide facilities for victim protection, offer counselling and support, and also encourage parents’ and caregivers’ participation. The implementation and enforcement of this new law also have to be tested for loopholes to ensure that children are comprehensively protected.”
Findings from the Disrupting Harm study have been instrumental in driving stronger legislative change in other countries, including Kenya and the Philippines. Guillaume Landry, Executive Director at ECPAT International, stressed the importance of evidence-based research:
“Evidence-based research is critical in developing comprehensive child protection policies and measures. Malaysia needs to ensure that stronger laws and regulations are effectively implemented to prevent and protect children against online child sexual exploitation.”
About Disrupting Harm
In early 2019, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, through its Safe Online initiative, invested $7 million to develop Disrupting Harm, a holistic and innovative research project that aims to better understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
Safe Online brought together and funded three organisations – ECPAT, INTERPOL and the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti – to undertake new research in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. This type of holistic research and assessment is new and unique in that it uses a multi-sector approach and the specific expertise of these three global agencies and their local partners. The methodology developed for these assessments has been implemented across the 13 countries and will be used in other countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Middle East/North Africa in the next few years.
Click here to learn more about Disrupting Harm.