Beware of cyber predators exploiting pandemic to target children

Beware of cyber predators exploiting pandemic to target children

KUALA LUMPUR: Spending more time on online platforms can leave children vulnerable to online exploitation as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.

With schools closed and many working from home during the Movement Control Order (MCO), cyber-criminals are taking advantage of the crisis as children are more likely to be using the internet unsupervised.It is feared that the “wealth of information” available on the internet could have negative implications on the children, both mentally and spiritually.

Thus, the onus is on parents to protect their children from falling prey to these online predators.In this context, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the regulatory body for the communications and multimedia industry, plays a significant role in combating cyber crime including related to children.

In a written reply to Bernama, MCMC said the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM) has drafted a National Child Protection Policy aimed at creating a safer online environment for children.

The policy includes drafting holistic initiatives for the prevention and control of cyber crime against children, either online or offline. It will also ensure every child is protected from neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation.

LAW ENFORCEMENT COOPERATION

On enforcement aspects, MCMC continues to foster close cooperation with the Malaysian Royal Police (PDRM) especially the Sexual, Abuse and Children Investigation Division of PDRM (D11), KPWKM as well as Interpol in its joint operations.

“This covers enforcement and efforts at blocking unwanted content on the internet or websites related to pedophiles and child pornography,” said MCMC.

In this respect, the MCMC has advised parents and caregivers to keep abreast of developments pertaining to online risks and threats as well as software control tools which can be used to monitor their children’s activities on the internet.

At the same time, parents should also establish a two-way communication with their children and allow them to share their experiences or problems without being judgemental, it said.

PROVIDE PROTECTION FOR CHILDREN

To ensure the digital environment is safe for all children to use, MCMC is also looking at strengthening the protection aspects for children while online.

These include embarking on joint engagement initiatives with the ministry and government agencies aimed at creating public awareness on the use of parental control tools by parents or caregivers.

The agency has also tightened its regulatory measures as well as enhancing ties with the ministry, government agencies and enforcement agencies such as PDRM, while providing a platform on the aspects of intervention at the technical and policy level as well as enforcement activities.

MCMC has also conducted joint efforts to strengthen the various functions of agencies and non-governmental organisations aimed at increasing public awareness on the protection of children on the internet.

In addition, MCMC has also enhanced the advocacy and awareness platform such as the Klik Dengan Bijak (DB) or Click Wisely and the Malaysian ICT Volunteer (MIV) to educate and raise public awareness towards internet safety and security.

“This is aimed at promoting positive use of the new media applications and services by being responsible, sensitive and ethical as well as collaborating with various institutions of higher learning in conducting research on safety and security as well as protection of children while online,” said MCMC.

Through collaboration and information sharing between Interpol, PDRM and MCMC, the Commission has restricted access to a total of 407 websites related to pedophiles and child pornography from 2015 up till July 2021.

Several laws in Malaysia provide for protection of online child exploitation namely Child Act 2001, the Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and the Penal Code.

NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S SOLE RESPONSIBILITY

In this respect, MCMC stressed that regulating access to content on the internet is not the sole responsibility of the government as all parties including parents should also be involved.

Towards this end, MCMC has launched a nationwide awareness compaign such as KDB and MIV to educate and encourage the people to practise self-control, exercise caution and use the new media wisely.

The Parental Control Tools has been launched in collaboration with internet service providers (ISP) to equip internet users, especially parents, with facilities to monitor and filter content accessed by families and children, to avoid the spread of unwanted content.

MCMC in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also organised a seminar on online child protection in March 2021 aimed at building children’s online resilience.

“The public is also advised to report to the authorities if you have any information on any unwanted content in the social media. They can help by providing tips to the authorities for follow-up action,” added MCMC.

PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT ON CHILDREN

She said children usually receive whatever they see and hear from their senses.”A child’s ability and cognitive capacity to analyse and filter information received from their senses is still low,” she added.

“As such, whatever information available on the internet, children are not able to differentiate between the positive and negative information without adult guidance,” she told Bernama when contacted recently.

Norhayati concurred with the view that today’s younger generation are easy targets for online exploitation as children spend a large part of their daily lives hooked on gadgets and the internet.

She added that children are exposed to gadgets and the internet either at home, in school or any other place, with more time spent indoor during the COVID-19 pandemic as schools conduct home-based teaching and learning (PDPR) online lessons.

Advertisements and television dramas as well as the mass media also portray life as incomplete without gadgets, she said.

“As such images of life’s excitement with gadgets are embedded in children’s cognitive capacity.Sharing her experience in handling children’s addiction with gadgets during family counselling sessions, Norhayati said children throw tantrums as a way of asking their parents to fulfil their needs for gadgets.

As they reach adulthood, they become short-tempered. As adults, they are unable to control their anger, she added.

EASY TARGETS

Norhayati said the potential risk of being used or becoming victims of exploitation would depend on where these children are and who their parents or caregivers are.

“As we all know, children are weak individuals and can easily gain sympathies from adults especially Malaysians. We often see many children becoming beggars for a long time.

“In fact, many foreigners use their children as beggars to get sympathies from the public.

“Based on footages viralled on the internet, children are often coerced by parents to produce earnings. What I am trying to say is, the possibility of children being exploited or used is high,” she added.

She also does not rule out the possibility that in future unhealthy business activities using children would surface.

“What is of concern is the likelihood that such a situation could take place in Malaysia, with photos of children being sold to sexual predators, as the case in other parts of the world.

“My worry is there are individuals who look for sources of finance on the pretext of working under the NGO ambit by using children to gain sympathy.

Other types of exploitation occur when these child victims are still not able to differentiate between good and evil and are still trapped in the trade, and have become ambassadors of sex toys.

Norhayati said, laws such as the Child Act 2001 that focuses on safety and protection to children from sexual offences and violence against children should be reviewed.

“The review should not merely cover the physical safety aspects, but also the emotional and mental health impact on the victims.

“While the existing law serves to ensure safety and protection for the children from the physical safety aspects, other issues such as the emotional and mental safety of traumatised victims, should also be looked into.

“The role and responsibility of parents toward protecting their children should be clearly defined especially in managing the use of gadgets and internet by their children at home.

Law enforcement on parents who neglect the safety of their children emotionally and mentally should be taken into consideration,” she added.– BERNAMA