By Mariam Mokhtar
Do you know what your children are watching on their mobile phones or computers? Are you concerned about the material that your children access on their computers or mobile phones?
Or, are you a parent who does not think that your children are in any danger from the internet? Did you know that Malaysia ranks third in the ASEAN region for the possession and distribution of child pornography? If you are unable to discuss sex with your child, do you think that sex education in schools might help?
Not being connected to the internet at home, does not stop cyber criminals from grooming your children via chat apps, or deter your children from accessing pornography, out of curiosity.
The following story may make you think twice about being lax in your responsibility to educate your children about the dangers online.
On July 3, a Year Six pupil, the son of a babysitter from Batu Gajah, raped a four-year-old girl, who was being looked after by his mother. The child had been raped three times since May.
The little girl told her mother that her genital organs were painful and after a visit to a clinic, in Tanjung Tualang, the doctor advised the mother to lodge a police report. He had found a torn hymen and other tears in her genitalia.
Police investigations revealed that the baby-sitter's son had been responsible for the rapes and on further questioning told them that he had been influenced by video footage on his mobile phone.
Most parents do not control the material which their children access on the net. Some parents are not computer literate and probably have no idea about the dangers. A few simply do not care, because they think their children will not come to any harm. Perhaps, the Batu Gajah rape may make them think twice about allowing their children complete freedom on the internet. Have they not heard about sexual grooming of young children by paedophiles or men (and women) who want to cause harm to children?
Last year, the same anxiety was felt by Jane Chelliah, a lawyer from Kuala Lumpur who is currently working in England.
Jane is the mother of a teenage daughter and knows about the ease with which children, including very young children, are able to access online hardcore pornography. She is also aware that other parents share her concerns. She said that children are conditioned by the images they view in the pornographic videos and was afraid that children might make the wrong interpretation of the footage.
Like most Malaysians, Jane said that during her childhood, sex was considered a taboo subject and parents rarely talked about sex, the importance of sexual relationships, the consequences of having sex, the diseases from unprotected sex, the mental anguish, or saying "no" to anyone who tried to force them to have sex.
Jane said, "As young girls, growing up in Malaysia, we weren't allowed to talk about sex, let alone date boys."
Fuelled by her concern, Jane was invited to take part in a British Reality TV production, made by Channel 4. She is the first Malaysian to participate in a documentary of this genre.
The three-part documentary was called "Mums Make Porn" and Jane was one of the five mothers featured. She volunteered so that she and other parents could, more easily start a conversation with their children about the rapid increase in online pornography.
One online source claimed that in 2017, the porn industry was worth about USD97 billion. Hollywood releases around 600 movies and rakes in USD10 billion profit annually. But in contrast, the porn industry releases 13,000 films and makes around USD15 billion in profit.
Jane said, "The foremost reason for my participation in the show was to help parents start conversations with their children about the proliferation of online porn. Please watch the video especially if you are a parent who finds it difficult to talk to your kids about sex. Initially, I was reticent to broach the subject with my daughter.
"Parents are the first educators. We teach our kids how to eat, dress, speak be well-mannered and, later, we prepare them for the school years and beyond. Yet, we find it so difficult to talk to them about human sexuality.
"This is the main barrier that I sought to address."
Jane strongly believes that parents should be concerned about the sites that their children visit on the internet. She said, "Parents ought to be concerned if their children view internet porn because it has been proven to harm their mental health.
"A lot of research has shown that children are learning about sex and relationships from watching porn but the elements of consent, intimacy and mutuality aren't learned from watching porn."
Although she does not know anyone, or any child, who has been affected by viewing internet porn, she is concerned about the effects of pornography on young minds and said, "People are ashamed of talking about their children's problems. A stigma is attached to poor mental health. Statistics show that many children are affected, which probably means that we all know a child who has been affected.”
When asked how parents could manage what young children and teenagers watch, on the internet, she said, "First. The government should recognise the seriousness of this problem. Secondly, they should implement a public education programme to warn parents about the problem. Finally, parents should be made aware of browser options, such as parental controls."
So, will you monitor your children's use of the internet?