Gaping holes in Malaysia’s sexual assault laws and lack of coordination between government agencies could make the nation’s planned sex offender registry practically useless in protecting children from abuse, a leading organisation against child exploitation has said.
Protect and Save the Children Malaysia president Che Nariza Hajjar Hashim told Southeast Asia Globe that reports of child sexual abuse in Malaysia drastically outnumbered actual convictions. She cites the shock acquittal last year of a 61-year-old man accused of raping a teenage girl in the state of Sarawak as a prime example of the law failing to protect the victims of sexual predators.
“In this case, the offender was acquitted by the appeals court because he claimed that he only inserted his fingers dipped in semen into the girl’s vagina and that is how the girl got pregnant, but he did not rape the child,” Che Nariza said. She added that under Malaysia’s penal code section 375, rape is only defined as penetration by a penis. “And hence, there is a need to expand the definition of rape.”
Without this revision, according to Che Nariza, rape cases would continue to go unpunished in Malaysia – something a sex offender registry would do little to address.
“Given the above context, we sincerely believe that a sex offenders registry is practically of no use to strengthen the child protection system at the national level,” Che Nariza said.
Calls for the creation of a publicly available sex-offender registry were renewed this week following the sentencing of British paedophile Richard Huckle to 22 life sentences after admitting to 71 charges of child sexual abuse while working as an English teacher in Malaysia.
By Huckle’s own count, the amount of children – including toddlers and babies – he sexually abused may be closer to 200. The 30-year-old British national was in possession of more than 20,000 indecent images as of his arrest.
Despite the passage of a series of sweeping amendments to the Child Act 2001 in Malaysia last month allowing for the creation of a publicly available registry for those convicted of sexual offences, Che Nariza raised concerns that a lack of clarity between the government agencies working for its implementation put its effectiveness at risk.
National chairman of the women’s wing of the Malaysian Chinese Association political party Heng Seai Kie told the country’s press on Tuesday that a well-implemented sex offender registry was crucial in preventing ageing paedophiles from resuming their crimes upon their release.
“We are horrified that the sex fiend [Huckle] will be eligible to appear before a parole board after 23 years, when he will be 53 years of age – possibly still spry and active, and capable of repeating similar offences once freed,” she said in a statement. Seai Kie also emphasized the need for a drastic revision of Malaysia’s outdated sexual violence legislation.
While Che Nariza said that the proposed sex offender registry could be useful for organisations working directly with children, she was dubious that it would have much impact on a national level.
“The registry will help screen out the abusers and restrict them from direct exposure with the children in all settings,” Che Nariza said. “But we believe that the sex offenders registry by itself will not serve as a deterrent in child sexual abuse.”