The recent horrific paedophile exposure in Malaysia has made some aware of the extensive nature and risk to children of these perverted individuals. Unfortunately many parents, including professionals, have made little change in their lives to protect their children. They remain blasé (unmoved) as to the threat and continue to expose their children and families to this danger. Kindly allow me to give one clear example.
Many parents happily post images of their children on social media – on Facebook and Twitter or use their child’s image as a profile image on WhatsApp or WeChat, etc. This provides a rich source of images of children for paedophiles to access and use. One Australian study found that 50% of all images used by websites frequented and maintained by paedophiles came from social media sites.
I see a significant number of my paediatric colleagues, who should know better (having seen numerous child abuse cases), also behaving in the same unsafe way. As Malaysians we are offering paedophiles a ‘supermarket’ of our children’s images to browse and access. Paedophiles are not just interested in pictures of naked children but also get aroused by pictures of cute children, even when dressed. These images are then re-posted on paedophile websites and shared with other perverts, some of whom will masturbate looking at our children (horrible just thinking of it). The biggest danger will of course be the hard-core individuals who will use this easy access to identify children to target for actual physical contact and sexual abuse. This is easy given the largely unlimited access many parents give to children to social media via their hand phones and easy internet access. One study we did at CRC Perak, of Malaysian 2 year olds in 2015, showed that more that 60% had unsupervised access to internet via hand phones or tablets; older children have even greater access. A large proportion of children I have met in my clinical practice also have their own Facebook accounts despite being less than 12 years of age.
Are Malaysian parents ignorant or just plain careless? This includes medical professionals. The world is rapidly changing and we need to change to support our children. This fascination with sharing our images online, especially those of our children, must stop.
Some recommendations for us all to protect our children:
Do not use your child’s or family photo (which includes children) as a profile image for any social media application or site.
Do not post images of your child online on Facebook, Twitter or other ‘open’ social media sites. If you need to share with family then restrict access to such images on the site or, better still, use closed groups like the Telegram app.
Do not post pictures of your child in any state of undress (shorts, swimwear, etc).
Do not disclose your home location/address or child’s school location online.
Discuss basic online safety rules with your children periodically.
Monitor your child’s access and use of the internet and social media sites.
Limit your child’s access to Facebook and other social network sites. Make sure they are mature enough before they use such sites.
Parents should also limit their own time on social media site and hand phone usage.
Setting an example for our children is vital. Be emotionally and spiritually in touch with your children rather than be connected electronically.
One day, when your child is an adult, they may ask you why their childhood images are being circulated and used online by dubious individuals. There is no return, no way to remove, any image shared on line once it has been re-shared or downloaded. Internet control has limitations, thus parents need to take action and play their part.
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSSSenior Consultant PaediatricianHead Paediatric Department, Hospital RPB Ipoh, PerakHead Clinical Research Center Perak