Child Sexual Exploitation through Social Media

Written by Amni Ahmad

Credit Photo: Predator in My Phone


With the explosion of the technology, Internet becomes a necessity in our lives. Internet allows us to connect with other people all around the world. People connecting via Internet by using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, WeChat and Instagram. Tartari (2015) stated in his research, Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) defined social media as Internet-based applications that allows it user to communicate with other people based on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0. All of these social media can be accessed by using a smartphone or other mobile devices. However, this advancement has exposed children to sexual exploitation and abuse (Sala, 2015). According to the Malaysian Child Act 2001 or Act 611, a child is defined as a person under the age of eighteen years. With these mobile chat applications, it is very easy for paedophiles to get in contact with potential victims.

According to an article reported by New Straits Times (2016), United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) revealed that every year, an estimated two million children globally are affected by sexual exploitation. The United Nations highlighted that Interpol and other authorities have identified that there were high levels of sexual exploitation of children online, with an average of five child victims of online sexual abuse every day (2m children sexually, 2016). In addition, End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), an international non-governmental organization fighting sexual exploitation of children also reported that the advancement of technology and Internet has afforded perpetrators anonymity and hidden pathways to groom children and seduce them via social media and internet games (German Press Agency, 2016).

Based on The Malay Mail report, between January 2012 and July 2016, there were 2,987 cases reported to the police. Charges were filed in 2,189 cases, however, only 140 successful convictions. The report also stated that according to Tan Sri Razali Ismail, chairman of Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the weakness of the laws in Malaysia regarding children was one of the factor Malaysia failed to protect children from sexual violence and abuse.

Definition of Paedophilia

In the previous time, the term “paedophiles” is not yet familiar in Malaysia as other parts of the world, but now with the rapid expansion of the Internet globally, we are at the peak of the issue. According to Capra et al. (2014), paedophilia can be defined as a psychiatric disorder in which a person who is an adult has sexual desire and interest towards children. It is one of mental disorder and the person who suffered it need to be treated (Martin, n.d). Paedophilia was included in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders since 1968 by American Psychiatric Association (APA) (Martin, n.d). A person who is sexually attracted to children is called paedophile.

Malaysia was shocked with the case of Richard Huckle, a British man that was found guilty for molested Malaysian children. Based on New Straits Times report in June 2016, Richard Huckle has admitted to 71 counts of molesting Malaysian children from 2006 to 2014 during his visit to Malaysia as freelance photographer and English teacher. According to the report, he was believed abused more than 200 children in Malaysia. Furthermore, Astro Awani in 2015 reported about Malaysian Math genius, Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin was jailed in United Kingdom for child pornography. Based on the report, he has collected more than 30,000 pornographic images and videos of children and 600 of them in category A, which defined by British authorities as extreme form of child sexual abuse. These cases have opened Malaysian eyes to the existence of paedophiles.

Before this, there are many other children reported missing and was found murdered like Nurin Jazlin Jazimin. However, at that time, the awareness of paedophilia was so little. Malaysian people are not aware about predator who hunts their children. Sinar Harian report in August 2016, showed the chronology of missing children in Malaysia since 1996 and until now the missing children still not been found. Based on the report, Nurin Jazlin Jazimin was believed being sexually abused before she was murdered. Sharlinie and Mohd Asmawi that reported missing still not being found until now. The case of Nurul Nadirah or Dirang was murdered and the latest one in 2014, Mohd Shariqal, 3 years old, was found dead after two days being reported missing. These children age are from three years old to 11 years old. All of these cases showed that the children being kidnapped and end with murder. But now, paedophiles are using different method to satisfy their desire which is by using social media.

Credit Photo: Predator In My Phone

Child sexual exploitation through social media

Nowadays, children in Malaysia have high risk to these online predators as most of them have social media account such as Facebook and WeChat, which are main targets for sexual predators. Most of sex offenders request to be the children’s friend and start to build an emotional connection so that they can sexually abuse them. This process is called “grooming” (Predator in my phone, n.d). According to Telenor Research, in Malaysia, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Line and Skype are the five most popular messaging apps among 16 to 35 years old (Chow, n.d). According to Chow (n.d), 80 percent of WeChat user in Malaysia are aged 16 to 34 years old.

Based on The Star report in June 2016, the journalist has exposed the activity of adults trying to persuade children having sex with them through social media by using chat applications. In 2016, New Straits Times reported, according to United States Department of Justice, 76 per cent of Internet-initiated sex crime offences take place in online chat rooms or social media platforms. The report also stated that it proved that online sex predators seek their prey especially in Asia through mobile chat applications such as WeChat and Facebook Messenger. According to the statistics, over the past two years, 80 per cent of reported rape cases in Malaysia were initiated online by sex predators (Kushairi, 2016). According to, majority of the victims were age below 18 years old.

News Straits Times in June 2016 reported, a social activist, Syed Azmi Alhabshi revealed a local paedophile group that was active on Telegram messaging applications. The group was participated with 751 participants and was shown discussing sex contents about a photo of a young girl in a swimsuit. According to Dr Raymond Choo, social media, IRC rooms and virtual worlds in online games has greatly facilitated communicating with other like-minded individuals, and the sharing of information and strategies for grooming children online (Azizan, 2012).

According to Women’s Centre for Change programme consultant Dr Prema Devaraj, teenagers attracted to “people nearby” offered from WeChat apps because of their desire to meet new people and able to communicate bravely as the interaction occurred in online environment (Chow, n.d). She added that due to the “people nearby”, sex predator preferred to use WeChat compared to WhatsApp as it provide more accessed to connect with many victims around them.

Apart from that, according to co-chair of the Bar Council’s cyber law and information technology committee, Foong Cheng Leong, most of chat companies are based outside Malaysia, this has create challenges in law enforcement as they are not legally bound. He added that these companies are subjected to the platform’s own privacy laws which they cannot revealed private information about their clients even though our law enforcement agencies request for the information. From this we can see the reason why sex predators use social media to satisfy their lust. How powerful they can be in online environment.

According to chief of the network security and enforcement sector of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Zulkarnain Mohd Yasin, Malaysia do have any specific laws regulating chat apps, but there are laws that may affect its users which is Sections 211 and 233 of the Communications & Multimedia Act 1998 that can be applied to online sexual harassment cases (Chow, n.d). He added that Malaysia do need a law that focussing on grooming as it is difficult to take action against sexual predator via chat apps. Chow (n.d), due to the that, countries like Britain, Canada and Australia came out with specific legislation against online grooming to curb this issue as chat apps are now becoming one of the medium for child sexual exploitation.


Thus, we can see that how the new media can bring new threats to our generation. The culture of parents taught their children that they should not speak to stranger or take sweets from them must also be apply in online world. Parents must carry out their responsibilities by creating awareness about the dangers of sexual predator in online environment to their children. They also need to be up-to-date with the new technology to control their children activities. Apart from that, in Malaysia, an individual that has intention to sexually abuse a child is not considered as a crime. It means that if there is no physical abuse or meeting occurred between the child and child groomer, no action will be taken. Legal action only can be make if he/she actually abuses the child. So, the law enforcement need to be strengthen in order to protect the next generation. In order to curb this problem, action should be taken at the beginning stage which is grooming process. Children is important asset for the country. In the future, this generation will be the leader and rule the world. It is important to protect them and build a healthy environment for their growth. Sexual abuse give huge impacts towards the psychology of the children.



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