There is a law that can hold criminals accountable for their crimes in trafficking children for sexual exploitation. But Malaysia is one of three countries in Southeast Asia that hasn’t signed this Protocol. What are you going to do about it?
Once upon a time, we wished for our younger siblings to be gone. We wanted them out of our lives, and wished they would disappear so we could have our own rooms or never have to pick up after their mess again or even keep an eye on them all the time.
But what would happen if they really went missing? Would you ever forgive yourself for your secret wish if you found out that they had suddenly vanished because they were among the 1.2 million children trafficked for sexual abuse and exploitation every single year?
Of course you wouldn’t want that! The level of annoyance of your pesky sibling could never amount to wanting any physical injury to befall them, even if you did say or think of some really mean things that you wished would happen to them in your many moments of rage.
However much money you said you’d gladly part with, just to have someone take him or her away, it would never have crossed your mind for your brother or sister – no matter how irritating, mischievous or painful – to be part of a staggering 79 per cent of US$27 billion, gleaned from the sexual exploitation of children.
In the end, while you sometimes can’t even stand the sight of your brother or sister, you’d never wish for them to be kidnapped, raped, beaten, tortured and violated sexually or turned into the object of some pedophiles’ lust, because deep down, you know you care for them deeply.
Blood is thicker than water and because of this, you know that you would even fight to protect them. And this is why, as youths, you must also be aware of the uphill battle we all face against child sex trafficking. It is your war too.
The State of Things
Just last month, Malaysia was upgraded to Tier 2 from Tier 3 in the United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, showing recognition of the efforts of the government to fight illicit trafficking.
And even more recently, the penalties of human trafficking were increased 10-fold, showing a move in the right direction to deter and curb this crime against humanity.
But despite all that, Malaysia is still one of only three countries in South East Asia who have not signed on to the Optional Protocols (Articles 34 and 35) in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – a shocking fact, for these protocols are crucial in putting precedence on the rights and protection of children victimised by sexual trafficking.
What is Child Sex Trafficking, and what are the Optional Protocols?
The definition of trafficking of children is: “the movement of a child (anyone under 18) for the purpose of exploitation is considered trafficking, even if it doesn’t involve coercion.”
Sexual exploitation of a child for commercial purposes is sex trafficking, and often, sex trafficking is for any or all of these purposes: child pornography, child prostitution, child brides and child sex tourism.
This is where the Optional Protocols come in to protect children against such crimes.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Articles 34 and 35 of the CRC state that the government should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse and take all measures possible to ensure that they are not abducted, sold or trafficked. In this protocol, it is made compulsory to criminalise these offenses. This Optional Protocol strikes hard on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and is to supplement the Convention, and to provide detailed requirements to end sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
But Malaysia is not bound by these Optional Protocols. Malaysian children are at great risk of sexual exploitation with little to no consequence to the monsters who are responsible.
“So many Malaysians are appalled at the crime of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, yet no concrete action is undertaken,” said Noreen Proseeur, Training and Education Director of P.S. The Children. “The Optional Protocol, once ratified, will be a solid platform to advocate for meaningful child protection with respect to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.”
The Optional Protocol (to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography) reinforces and extends the duty of the government to initiate protection measures relating to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, explained Nooreen.
“It is a lack of political initiative that stops the government from signing to these protocols – they don’t deem it important,” she said. “The government is only looking into human trafficking, but much more still needs to be done to stop child sex trafficking.”
After all, said Noreen, raising fines is not a deterrent for criminals involved in multi-billion dollar crimes.
“The sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography is mostly syndicate oriented. Many of the individuals caught by law enforcement agents are “small fry”,” she said. “The arrest and prosecution of the syndicate leaders will require the unwavering commitment of all stakeholders, effective judiciary measures including a strong legal framework, adequate training for the judiciary and enforcement agents, inter-agency collaboration as well as inter-regional co-operation.”
“Malaysia needs a well-thought-out strategic plan to deal with this issue and not have knee jerk reactions just to get ourselves from Tier 3 to Tier 2,” added P.S. The Children director, Madeleine Yong. “It’s more than that: There needs to be prevention; managing of investigations, prosecution of perpetrators and protecting and assisting children in their recovery.”
One organisation taking matters into their hands is The Body Shop, who in collaboration with their non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners, are embarking upon their second year of their campaign against child sex trafficking.
Last year, The Body Shop launched their ‘Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People’ campaign with the aim of creating awareness of this highly secretive and lucrative crime, urging the people to face the facts: Malaysia is a destination, transit and more shockingly, source country for trafficking, with an estimated 90 children getting trafficked every month.
This year, they are pushing even harder for the signing of the Optional Protocols – and the reason is clear.
“Child pornography is an extremely grave concern, now more so than ever. Technology has made it so easy to film a child for pornographic purposes; times have moved on and so has technology,” said The Body Shop MD, Datin Mina Cheah-Foong. “You can do so much more that you could not do before. It’s as easy as installing a spy camera in a kindergarten, for instance, and the pictures get circulated all over the world among pedophiles!”
So the Optional Protocols are to protect our children against just that, and to hold the perpetrators responsible and punishable for their actions.
“It’s shocking: There was a case overseas where a childcare centre caretaker was selling pictures of toddlers and young children under the pretense of changing their diapers! These are such instances that the Optional Protocol steps in.”
Credit must be given where credit is due, she said, for the government has taken many steps to fight human trafficking.
“This is just one more step to take. As it is, we are signatories for the CRC, so it is also to ensure that the law protects against child pornography.” The best example of this is the recent case of three-year-old Nicole Soo Siew Ching, who was abducted by her own father on June 26.
“Her frantic mother believed that Nicole had been taken to be sold by her father, to cover his gambling debt! But these protocols specifically make provisions to make his actions a crime, and not just a family dispute. This means that as soon as her mother lodges a report, it makes it a crime that the police are obliged to investigate, instead of her mother being told to go to the courts and apply for a court order to compel the father to return the child.”
It is to ensure that the government is obliged to actively do all within its power to recover a missing or abducted child, added Cheah-Foong. “It means more work, but it is the responsibility of the government! This is why we’re calling for the government to ratify it and include it into the CRC. This is why we’re working with our NGO partners to ensure that no matter what, there will be somebody who will never give up looking for the missing child.”
Why Should the Youth Care?
“Everybody is someone’s somebody.” Your sister, your brother, your niece, nephew or cousin – when somebody goes missing, the effects are devastating.
“Not only that, the youth are getting trafficked too. It could be you – but you’d never think of it. When you’re young, you feel invincible,” said Cheah-Foong. “You always think that the bad things never happen to you, it only happens to somebody else. You say: I’m aware, I’m street-smart. But if not you, then somebody you know and somebody you care about.”
“Truth be told, the newly amended fines are just not enough. What is RM 500,000 in a multi-billion US dollar industry? It’s pocket change! But the death penalty (the penalty of convicted drug trafficking) is not a true deterrent either.”
What she believes will be a true deterrent to child traffickers is what is called ‘Fruits from a Poisoned Tree’, where any material gains that have been acquired during the duration of involvement in trafficking is to be confiscated – whether those gains were as a direct result of trafficking or from legitimate means.”
“A lot of traffickers have legitimate fronts. They need it to conduct their trafficking business. As it is, the government has laws that seize illegally gained assets. Why not extend it? I personally don’t believe in the death penalty – a criminal can only die once.”
What Can You Do?
In light of that, The Body Shop has made it their pledge to continue to urge for the ratification of the Optional Protocols, and simultaneously raise funds for their NGO partners with the sale of the Soft Hands, Kind Hearts hand cream (RM 39.90), where net proceeds will go to the NGOs directly. Working also hand in hand with INTI College, they are planning a march to raise awareness along the busiest street in KL, Jalan Bukit Bintang, at a yet-to-be-confirmed date.
In addition to that, you can sign the petition for the ratification of the CRC and the inclusion of the Optional Protocols at all Body Shop outlets nationwide.
There is still much to be done to protect our children from being sold to the highest bidder. There is a long way to go before child prostitution and pornography is crushed and defeated. And it begins now: As soon as you put down this paper and head out to tell somebody you know about the Optional Protocols. Because if knowledge is power, then we ourselves will be the most powerful weapon against the monsters of child sex trafficking.