Huckle's abuse: Wake up, Malaysia! — Nurul Izzah Anwar

JUNE 10 — Britain’s 30 year old paedophile, the worst in the country’s history, confessed to have sexually abused as many as 200 young children in Malaysia between 2006 and 2014.

Not content with merely abusing innocents, Richard Huckle also flaunted his exploits, uploading upwards of 20,000 images of children as young as six months old being sexually abused onto the dark web.

As a result, he was slapped with 91 charges — 71 of which he has pleaded guilty to — relating to 23 children from Kuala Lumpur. A London court has since handed him 22 life sentences for varying heinous abuses against young Malaysian and Cambodian children.

Indeed, Malaysians continue to be in the dark as to the ability of Huckle to escape the authority’s watchful eyes and continuing his abuse for years, undetected.

Granted, he is now a held prisoner. But there remain many questions requiring immediate answers from Malaysia’s authorities.

With regards to knowledge on Huckle’s criminal activities, Bukit Aman’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation principal assistant director ACP Jenny Ong Chin Lan, had said that Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) had only only informed the Malaysian authorities of the crimes about a month ago. This contrasts with the assertion by Andrew Brennan, deputy director of the NCA.

Brennan said, “I’m very confident we worked very, very closely with the Malaysian authorities and an NGO based in Malaysia,” and that “all of the intelligence” have been handed over since November 2014. Is this a matter of non-enforcement, or one of miscommunication? If Huckle’s abuse were indeed overlooked since 2014, then the Malaysian authorities have fully-neglected their duty towards our nation. Internal Ministerial audits must be launched immediately, with the corresponding results then presented to parliament.

I believe this sordid episode involving the abuse of innocents warrant national attention.

Journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan, who has corresponded with one of Huckle’s victims reported that when recounting the abuse, the victim “seemed completely numb”. In Ramakrishnan’s words, “It is taking a lot of work to convince the caregivers and families of the victims that counselling is necessary. Mostly, they just want to forget that it happened.”

Malaysia’s child protection legislations are insufficient. In 2001, the Child Act (Act 611) was legislated to protect and to defend the rights of all Malaysian children, followed by the establishment of several supporting units. For instance, the National Council for the Protection of Children advises the government on child protection issues, and the Department of Social Welfare has built children’s homes for victims of abuse.

At several public hospitals, SCAN (suspected child abuse and neglect) teams - staffed with pediatricians, mental health professionals, forensic pathologists and social workers - were formed to provide victims of abuse with more comprehensive treatment.

But, shelter, medical treatment and social assessment for abuse survivors are curative approaches to child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, preventive efforts to deter sexual abuse of children still require strengthening. Clearly, recent developments show that more must be done to protect our innocents.

One basic method common to many developed countries, such as the United States, Australia and South Korea is the establishment of a public sex offender registry. A registry that is made public helps a community to identify possible sexual offenders in the proximity of their children.

In Malaysia, the brutal sexual abuse and murder of 8-year-old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin triggered proposals to institute a sex offender registry in 2007. The proposal never gained traction. It is only after 9 years have lapsed that Women, Family and Community Development minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim once again iterated plans to establish a sex offender registry by the end of 2016.

Indeed, an amendment to the 2001 Child Act was tabled and passed during the parliamentary session this March, and will be introduced to the Senate next. However, the sex offender registry that was promised earlier this year has not come to fruition.

A full-fledged, public, sex offender register can sensitise our community towards the actual presence of child sexual abusers. But, even having a sex offender registry should not render us complacent—the safety of our children would still be far from guaranteed.

One study in the United States found no significant changes in crime before and after the introduction of a sex offender registry. Another study even found that having a sex offender registry does not prevent listed perpetrators from repeating sexual offences. All this is not to diminish the importance of having a sex offender registry, which role would be to better equip us to keep a vigilant eye on our children, as well as creating sensitivity on the protection of children from harm.

Hence, besides the sex offender registry, there must be additional complementary measures implemented.

Richard Huckle, now known as Britain’s worst paedophile, first came to Malaysia in the early 2000s under the pretext of a teaching gap year. Huckle’s approach of grooming children before abusing them is not an isolated incident. We see regular reports of incest, statutory rape, sometimes leading to fatal consequences. There needs to be concerted efforts to protect our children.

First, e should mitigate the risk factors that make our children susceptible to sexual abuse, especially poverty. Where poverty is high, the likelihood that the underage are forced into child marriages is also significantly higher. The United Nations has reported that this practice denies children their potential to develop as healthy and empowered citizens, often subjecting them to sexual violence instead.

Second is the issue of support. We must support the victims of abuse and their respective families to overcome sexual trauma via therapy and counselling. Mariza Abdulkadir, from the Protect and Save the Children Association, have reported that the loved ones of the victims are still in denial of the abuse.

This shows a pressing need to eradicate the entrenched social stigma against sexual abuse victims, and the sexual trauma that the victims endure. Trauma focused-cognitive behavioural therapy is found to effectively reduce trauma, symptoms of depression and behavioural difficulties, and improve interpersonal trust and social competence.

Third, there must be pre-employment and volunteer screening procedures for people who work with children, as is the practice for many advanced countries—such as Australia and Ireland. The enforcement of criminal background checks, interviews and reference checks will prevent the employment of candidates whose profiles bear a striking resemblance to that of a sexual offender’s. Specific indicators include, prior sexual offenses against children, difficulties with or aversion to adult sexual relationships, the lack of empathy, frequent and unexplained moves, living alone or with parents.

Fourth, there can no longer be denial to the need for our school curriculum to include a holistic sex education for youth to reduce the incidence of inappropriate sexual contact and underage sex. Worldwide, the majority of sexual abusers are people that the child or the child’s family know and trust. What is important then is for parents and educators to discuss sexual abuse in an9 age-appropriate manner, to educate children on physical boundaries and avenues for reporting sexual violations.

Recently, community activist Syed Azmi Alhabsi has also brought to light the presence of a local paedophile group that lurks on the messaging application, Telegram. Although no child abuse cases have been attributed to the aforementioned local group, we need to recognise that the threat of child abuse is indeed real and frightening.

Richard Huckle has sent a signal to the dark world of paedophilia that Malaysia is a place that is vulnerable to their predations. We must never allow this sordid episode to repeat itself.

It has been more than two decades since Malaysia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and evidently, there is still much more that we need to do. Let this horrendous episode be our wake up call.

The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick and the needy, and the handicapped. ~Hubert Humphrey

* Nurul Izzah Anwar, Lembah Pantai MP and PKR vice-president.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.