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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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CHILDREN AND ICT

Children are the most valuable assets of the country. Their role towards country cannot be denied as they will determine the rise or fall of a country in the future. Thus, it is very important for them to be protected and at the same time, be treated with care at their young age, so that they will grow up to be a good leader and be able to develop the country.

However, protecting the children, nowadays, is not an easy job as the parents, especially, have to deal with the social problems that occurs every day as we can see on the television or newspapers. As a child, they are the most vulnerable person and can easily be exposed to the social threats. The development of Information and Communication Technology (“ICT”) has led to the social problems involving the young users like children.

In these days, ICT has influence in every aspect of human's life. The usage of ICT like Internet, mobile phone and laptop in daily life is a need. As the time past, the way people communicate each other also change. The advancement of ICT has made life becomes much easier as it has improved the life of human by giving a lot of benefits to the human. The technologies have been applied in various sectors broadly to improve the life of human including education, health, agriculture, commerce and banking.

However, the growth of the ICT does not only affect the adult but also the children. As new generation, they have been exposed to the Internet things as early as baby. A research conducted by Hilda K. Kabali et al, (2011) found that 96.6% of the children under age of 4 years old have been using mobile devices regardless of family income and it starts before the age of 1 year old.  Watching videos, downloading applications like games and music from applications store and playing games are amongst the common activities.

The parents also support the children using ICT as early as tender age. They let their kids to play with mobile devices so that they are able to do chores, keep the child calm in public places, rum errands and also to put their children to sleep.  What make it even worst is the parents even buying personal gadgets like smartphones or tablets specifically for the children's usage. As a result, the children spend more time on electronic gadgets and may easily get irritated and grumpy if they are distracted.  

In the survey conducted by Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in the Internet Users Surveys 2016, there was approximately 24.1 million (or 77.6% of all inhabitants in Malaysia) of Internet users in 2015 compared than in 2014 which was 66.6%.  It shows a remarkable increase of 11.0% in 2015. In the digital age, human has improving the way they are communicating and interacting each other, not like the old days. However, it does not mean the changes are good, provided that it may have bad side effect.  

According to the study conducted by Sonia Livingstone and Leslie Haddon of EU Kids Online, the child's risk and harm related to online activities can be categorized into three types which are:

a) online harm from content (the child as a passive recipient of pornographic or harmful sexual content);

b) harm from contact (the child targeted as a participant by an adult or another child in activities such as sexual abuse that is photographed and then disseminated, for online grooming for sexual abuse, or for bullying); and

c) harm from conduct (the child actively initiates risky or abusive behaviour, for example, by creating or uploading pornographic material, physically meeting an adult met online, placing images of her or himself or another young person online, downloading abusive images of children or bullying).

From the study, it shows that a child can act not only as the recipient but also as participant and actor in online activities. However, for the purpose of this article, the discussion will be on the perspective a child is targeting as a participant by an adult, especially in activities such as online child pornography and online child grooming.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND ITS IMPACT

In the survey reported by the Department of Statistics, amongst the popular Internet activities by Internet users in 2015 were participating in social networks (84.3%), getting information about goods and services (79.6%), downloading images, movies, videos or music; playing or downloading games (76.1%) and sending or receiving e-mails (68.4%).  From the survey, it records that participating in social networks is the most popular Internet activities amongst the Internet users.

Social Networking Site (SNS) is one of the types of social media. Social media, in simple word, is defined as any online service through which users can create and share a variety of content.  Social media are including user-generated services (like blogs), online review/rating sites, virtual game worlds, video sharing sites, and online communities, whereby consumers produce, design, publish, or edit content.  

Malaysians are using the SNS not only for leisure and entertainment but also for work. Take an example, in the past, people used to send letter and email to apply for job. But, nowadays, people can apply any jobs that they wish through social networking platforms such as LinkedIn. This kind of SNS is specifically built for the professionals use.  Thus, it is not shocking that SNS user not only enjoying socializing for personal matters but also professional matters.

Moreover, the popularity of the SNS cannot be denied as according to Internet Users Survey 2016, on average, one user registered for four types of social media account.  This clearly shows the impact of social media on person. However, positive or negative effect of social media depends on how the people using the technology itself either for good or bad. Table below shows among the widespread of social networking sites.

Source: http://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social  media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/

SNS is a very popular social media application in digital age. The effect of it does not only spread to the adults but also the children. The EU Kids Online reports that social networking sites are popular activities online in Europe where 59% of the users are children aged between 9-16 years old.  Therefore, it is not surprising the child as early age of 9 has his or her own social networks account. It has to admit that how powerful is SNS's effect to the people, especially the children. At early stage, the children get access to the Internet to watch cartoon video or play kids games. Slowly, they will learn using SNS like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and WeChat.

SNS is a site where people will share their daily life routines activities with their friends on site. It is done through updating status, photos, videos, locations and others. The children user will not be left behind and will do the same like other users. However, due to incapability to think and act like an adult, a child may not be able to understand and realize the danger waiting them by simply sharing their life on line. This is because they are so naive and tend to share more information about themselves and unaware of security and privacy issues.  They need more guidance and advice from the adult in managing their social media accounts. They are too young to realize that the posting they share is not only be seen by the friends on the virtual world but also strangers that may access to their profiles and they do not even know who these people in real world. Therefore, as the young user of SNS, the children are high risky users and easily being targeted by the sexual perpetrators in virtual world.

HOW SERIOUS IS THE CHILD PORNOGRAPHY AND CHILD GROOMING

Child pornography and child grooming are growing crimes as there has been a number of cases reported on media involving those crime. Not only give effect to the children, sexual crime against children also affects the parents and the society. Statistics from Royal Malaysian Police 2015 revealed that for years 2010-2015, it is reported that the child sexual abuse cases are for 2010, 937 cases, 2011, 824 cases, 2012, 963 cases, 2013, 1,093 cases, 2014,1,829 cases and 2015, 1,619.

Richard Huckle had shocked the society where he was arrested and sentenced for the 71 counts of sexual offences against young children aged between six months and 12 years in between 2006 and 2014.  He had been grooming and abusing up to 200 Malaysian babies and children and shared images of his horrific crimes on the dark web.  

Before Huckle case, there is a case where a Malaysian student who studied Mathematics at the Imperial College who was caught for having in his possession 30,000 images and videos of child pornography.  He was jailed in UK for his offence. These two cases are amongst the reported case on newspapers that appalling the whole world especially Malaysian.

Generally, pornography can be defined as sexually explicit materials (SEM), materials intended to create arousal in the consumers.  In Malaysia, there is no specific definition of child pornography can be referred until the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 (Act 792) was passed by the Parliament on 4 April 2017.  

According to the Act, “child pornography” means any representation in whole or in part, whether visual, audio or written or the combination of visual, audio or written, by any means including but not limited to electronic, mechanical, digital, optical or magnetic means, or manually crafted, or the combination of any means- (i)  of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct; 
(ii)  of a person appearing to be a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct; 
(iii)  of realistic or graphic images of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or 
(iv) of realistic or graphic images of a person appearing to be a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct.  

Whereas, ‘Grooming' is the term used to describe the process by which pedophiles build trust with a child from a non-sexual relationship to a sexual relationship in a manner that seems natural and non-threatening either to the child himself or even to an adult supervising the child.  Through the grooming process, the perpetrators will build the relationship with the targeted child until at the point where the child puts on the trust on the perpetrators. At the time, the perpetrators will take advantage to use the susceptible child for their own sexual satisfaction.

Both child pornography and child grooming are related crimes. The mode of operation of the crimes is also same which are through social media platform especially SNS. The emergence of the various types of social networking sites contributes to a lot of activities involving the child pornography and also child grooming. The idea of social networking is to stay in contact and communicate with their families, friends, and relatives, apart from expanding their new contact through virtual world. However, the pedophiles and sexual perpetrators have exploited the ICT for their self-interest. They use SNS to approach and groom the vulnerable children through online before getting their pornography photos or videos and sexually abuse them.

Not only stop there, what make it more worst is all these perpetrators set up a group page where they share their hobby and swap their collection of picture and videos of child pornography with other group members on social media. These pictures are not only taken from their own collection but also from other sources such stolen images from other social media users. One Australian study found that the websites frequented and maintained by pedophiles contains almost 50 percent of the pornography images, which came from social media sites.  

Thus, it clearly shows that how sick are these perpetrators until at the stage where they do not feel hesitated or embarrassed to share their hobbies among them. May be the humanity inside them has faded in parallel with the uncontrollable of their lust.  

PORNOGRAPHY AND GROOMING: PRE AND POST DEVELOPMENT OF ICT

The development of ICT has bad side that every user has to bear. For an example, the misuses of the ICT have caused serious social problems involving the children like child pornography and child grooming. Both are the sexual offences involving children occurred even before the development of social media. The advancement of social media has triggered the child pornography and child grooming activities to spread widely through online.

In the absence of ICT, the sexual perpetrators used to groom the victims from the public places such as playground, school and neighborhoods area.  The victims were people within their environment like family, friends, co-workers and people known to them. But, it has changed with the ICT's development on board, as the perpetrators have no longer using the old method to groom the children as they can just using the ICT to find and approach the victim through online. Without leaving their own house, they can even approach and groom any potential victims using social media. Besides, social media can be accessed from any place and anytime provided that there is Internet access.

Compared to the old method of child pornography and child grooming, online approach is faster and can be wielded as a tool at a minimum cost and stealth.  It is used by the perpetrator to groom the children online and at the same time, to find and share the image of child pornography. The main reason the perpetrators prefer to groom the children using SNS is because they may easily find the victims through these kind of social networking platforms. In addition, countless children may be reached by the perpetrators at great geographical distances simultaneously without easily being detected by the law enforcer officer.  Therefore, the sexual perpetrators have no fear to groom the vulnerable children online knowing that their activities are not easily detected.

At initial, the perpetrators will create an account which mostly, it is a fake account where they will use different name and also different identity. Using this fake account, they will groom the innocent children before sexually abuse them. The main target is the young child amongst the SNS users that is innocent and can easily be manipulated by perpetrators. Moreover, the children have high curiosity to learn something new and unaware of safety issues which has lead them into the trap of the perpetrators outside there without knowing it.

There is even in the situation where the child's age that join the SNS are far younger than the age information that they provide to SNS providers. Even though most of the sites have provided the certain age limit before the children can sign up to any sites but it does not mean that the children who registering the sites are the competent person in accordance to the terms and conditions of the services.  Moreover, there is no specific method to verify the age of child and this not prevent the under age children from registering the sites based on a false age.

As a young user of social media, these children do not have any basic skills how to socialize using the social media and do not realize small matters like sharing personal information like address and phone number to public may put them in risk. A survey reveals that 45% of Facebook users, aged 11 to 12 did not know how to manage their privacy settings and other 39% did not know how to block another user.  The lack of maturity and social skills may be one of the factors the children are considered as easy target.

THE EFFORTS TO COMBAT SEXUAL OFFENCES AGAINST CHILDREN

The over flood of immoral activities by the sexual perpetrators through online making prevention of the crimes involving children sexual abuse are little bit challenging. In response to the issue of sexual offences against children, the government especially the lawmakers has took several steps in order to protect these children from sexual crimes.

For example, an amendment has been made to the Child Act 2001 (“CA”) in 2016 where one of the four main amendments in the Act is child registry.  The amendment of CA in 2016 including insertion child registry is seen as a good step in improving law relating to children in Malaysia by taking account of the issue of pedophilia.

The child registry would be used during employment screening before any employees is hired for the businesses involving children. Basically, it contains the records of convicts who committed crimes against children to allow screenings to be conducted on individuals working with children as added safety measure.  The rest of the amendment is community service order (CSO), a family-based care and heavier penalty.

Apart from that, the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 comes into effect on 10 July 2017.  In Malaysia, before 2017, there is no specific law which provides the protection to the children against sexual offences. Before the Act was passed, any person found guilty for any offence involving sexual offence against children may be punished under section 377E of the Penal Code for inciting a child to an act of gross indecency.  The offender shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than three years and not more than fifteen years and also liable for whipping.  

The Sexual Offence Against Children Act 2017 focuses on protecting the children from sexual crimes as it would be applicable to the children under the age of 18 years and it is in line with the Child Act 2001.  The sexual crimes include the child pornography and physical sexual acts on children.  The government especially the law enforcement has seen the sexual offences as something that severe, which needs to be overcomed as soon as possible.

Additionally, in June 2016, the Prime Minister has launched the Special Court for Sexual Crimes against Children (special court) to handle sexual crimes against children at the Palace of Justice. In tandem with the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, the focus of the court is on the sexual victimization children cases like child pornography, child grooming and child sexual assault.  Recently, the media has reported that a man was brought before the Special Court for Sexual Crimes against Children  where he faced more than 600 charges of sodomised, raped and sexually abused his underage daughter for almost 2 years.   This is one of the cases of the sexual offences against children which has been brought before the special court. The special court, which started its first hearing on 4 July 2017 has disposed of 11 out of 62 cases involving the sexual offences against children within a month.  It can be considered as a big success for the special court as it can dispose many cases since its establishment.

These new Child Act (Amendment) 2016, the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and also the special court are the prove how serious is the government in dealing with sexual offences against children in order to overcome the issue of child pornography and child grooming.

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