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CHILD GROOMING: A RISING EPIDEMIC IN MALAYSIA

In recent years, Malaysia has been grappling with a silent epidemic that threatens the safety and well-being of its children: sexual grooming. This insidious practice, characterized by the gradual manipulation and exploitation of minors for sexual purposes, has emerged as a pressing concern. As cases continue to surface across the nation, it is evident that child grooming has become a pervasive and alarming phenomenon that demands urgent attention and decisive action.

 

Recently, a thirty-seven years-old female teacher in a local high school, a wife and mother of five, was caught having intimate relationship with her seventeen years-old student. Although there are divided views within the public as to whether a seventeen boy is mature enough to consent, seeing that children nowadays have been involved with puppy love since the young age of thirteen (perhaps younger), a “child” is still defined as a person under the age of eighteen years according to the Child Act 2001[1]. In the case of Public Prosecutor v Muhammad Hazrul bin Harizal (2023)[2], the accused was convicted of sexual grooming despite the victim being seventeen-years-and-nine-months old whom allegedly seduced the accused although denied by her and other prosecutor’s witnesses. What may begin as seemingly innocent interactions can quickly escalate into situations of coercion, abuse, and trauma, leaving lasting scars on the lives of the affected children.

 

Child grooming, often perpetrated by individuals in positions of trust and authority, involves a deliberate process of establishing emotional connections with children with the ultimate aim of sexual exploitation. Perpetrators employ a variety of tactics, including flattery, gifts, and psychological manipulation, to gain the trust and compliance of their young victims. More often than not, these children are not capable of understanding consent and the heinous acts committed against them while those who do understand the graveness of this crime, constantly feared the perpetrator’s position of authority.

 

Defined as the process of establishing a relationship with a child with the intention of sexually exploiting them, child grooming is a grave violation of a child's rights and dignity. The Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 (Act 792) comprehensively addresses this reprehensible conduct by criminalizing various acts associated with grooming, thereby providing a legal framework to prosecute offenders and protect vulnerable children.

 

In Public Prosecutor v Mohd Sukri bin Mohd Hasan (2022)[3], the father of a thirteen-year-old daughter subjected her to sexual assault and grooming in their residential house. In one of the reported cases, the father carried out these horrible deeds while the child slept by her younger sibling. She trusted that her father wouldn't harm her, not knowing better than to let him. Unfortunately, the Prosecutor was unable to establish the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the lower court dismissed the case on the grounds that the victim's statements were disjointed and did not correspond with the incident that was reported. This was likely due to the victim's limited understanding and status as a child. Due to the fact that the child's account contained no significant inconsistencies and/or major discrepancies, the father was found guilty in a High Court appeal and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and two strokes of the cane and addition of 3 years imprisonment and four strokes of cane. This was based on the trust relationship as the victim’s biological father[4] and the reliance of 'sentencing trend' for offences under section 14(a) of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 in 5 other reported cases. The Court also imposed a three-year supervision sentence[5] and a requirement for the perpetrator to undergo counselling while in custody[6].

 

The inclusion of Part III & IV in Act 792[7] reflects Malaysia's commitment to combatting child grooming and protecting the rights of children to live free from exploitation and abuse. By explicitly defining and criminalizing grooming behaviours, the law serves as a deterrent to potential offenders and provides law enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute cases effectively. Under these provisions, several key elements constitute the offense of child grooming:-

 

Section 11 & 12 of the Act[8]; Communication with a Child:-

The sections prohibit any person from communicating with a child, either directly or indirectly, for the purpose of grooming them for sexual exploitation. This includes engaging in conversations, sending messages, or using electronic communication platforms to establish rapport and gain the child's trust.

 

Section 13 of the Act[9]; Travelling and/or Arranging to Meet a Child:-

It is an offense under this provision to travel, arrange or facilitate a meeting with a child, either within Malaysia or abroad, with the intent of grooming them for sexual purposes. This provision aims to prevent perpetrators from luring children into potentially dangerous situations under the guise of developing a relationship or offering assistance. Additionally, this provision aims to address the alarming trend of child grooming facilitated through online platforms and social media, where perpetrators may attempt to establish physical contact with their victims.

 

Section 14 & 15 of the Act[10]; Sexual Grooming Offense:-

These provisions criminalize the act of sexually grooming a child, which involves engaging in conduct that is intended to prepare the child for sexual activity. This includes activities such as exposing the child to sexually explicit materials, desensitizing them to sexual behaviour, or coercing them into sexual acts through manipulation or inducement.

 

However, despite the existence of legislation such as Act 792, challenges persist in effectively addressing and eradicating child grooming in Malaysia. These challenges include the need for enhanced collaboration between government agencies, law enforcement authorities, non-governmental organizations, and civil society stakeholders to strengthen prevention efforts, improve victim support services, and ensure the swift and fair administration of justice.


[1] Section 2 of Child Act 2001 (Act 611)

[2] [2023] MLJU 1549

[3] [2022] MLJU 2009

[4] section 16(2)(a) of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017

[5] section 27 (1) of Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017

[6] section 26 (1) of Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017

[7] Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 (Act 792)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.


Authored by Khairul Nur Afiqah binti Khairul Ariffin


Kindly note that this legal article does not, and is not intended to, constitute formal legal advice by the Firm, instead all information, content and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. If readers require further clarification or legal advice, please email office@kevinwuassociates.com


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