KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 — The federal government will be raising awareness among the public about their legal obligation and need to report sexual crimes against children to the authorities.

In a joint statement today, Law and Institutional Reform Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said and Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek noted a worrying increase in the number of child victims in reported sexual offences cases from 2017 to 2023.

In these seven years, there have been 6,990 child victims.

In 2023 alone, there were 1,570 cases; this includes 110 cases involving children under age six.

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One of the government's major challenges currently is the issue of a lack of reporting of such cases to the authorities, especially by children themselves, the ministers said.

Noting that the Malaysian police's statistics show that over 80 per cent of sexual offences against children involve individuals known to the child victims, the ministers said every member of society “plays an important role to protect our children from the growing threat of sexual offences”.

Amid such challenges, the Prime Minister's Department's Legal Affairs Division (BHEUU) together with the Education Ministry today held a meeting attended by both ministers, along with representatives from BHEUU, the Education Ministry, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the Social Welfare Department, and the police.

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“The objective of that meeting is to organise a strategy towards tackling the urgent issue in relation to the lack of reporting of sexual offences against children,” Azalina and Fadhlina said.

They noted the meeting is part of efforts for the unity government's mission to fight sexual offences against children and increase public awareness, including among children themselves.

According to the statement, the Education Ministry is currently working to increase awareness among both students and educators about legal provisions on this issue, and to create an effective and child-friendly reporting mechanism for institutes of education, following its launch of a guideline on managing sexual wrongdoings last September.

"To facilitate the implementation of this effort, the Legal Affairs Division will sign a Note of Cooperation with the Ministry of Education Malaysia," the two ministers said.

The ministers also said a comprehensive awareness campaign involving all related sectors and agencies in this effort to curb such crimes would be launched in the near future, and that the awareness campaign will be spread nationwide with the aim of emphasising each individual's responsibility to report incidents of sexual abuse against children.

"Section 19 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act (Act 792) clearly provides that failure to report such crimes is a crime, and this provision clearly shows how important it is for Malaysians to be the government's eyes and ears in tackling this issue," they said.

Section 19 makes it a crime to not report to the police about the commission of a sexual offence against children or about the intention of any person to commit sexual offences against children; and those found guilty of this offence can be punished with a maximum fine of RM5,000.

The ministers said the awareness campaign will also include the approach of "Training of Trainers", where teachers and community leaders will be trained on effectively detecting and reporting cases of sexual offences against children that happen in schools.

"The Unity Government is committed to work together with Malaysians to overcome the challenge of lack of reporting of sexual offences against children in order to continue cultivating a safe environment for our children," they said.