We must do more to stop the monsters: The Star

Reports said Richard Huckle targeted impoverished children such as those living in this community (right) in Kuala Lumpur.
Reports said Richard Huckle targeted impoverished children such as those living in this community (right) in Kuala Lumpur.PHOTO: AFP

Richard Huckle is the vilest of sexual predators, the kind that feed their depravity by exploiting the innocence, trust and neediness of children from poor families. 

He seemed proud of his sickening acts and even sought to earn money from his videos.

But he did not just take advantage of his victims.

British national Richard Huckle. PHOTO: REUTERS

He was able to do what he did for years because he capitalised on our woeful understanding of paedophilia and the perception that fighting sexual abuse of children is not a national priority.

Apparently, nobody thought he was uncomfortably close to his young victims or that there was reason to be suspicious of how much time he spent with them alone. 

It was as if Malaysia was largely immune to the problem of adults having sexual relations with children.

It’s a tragic mistake to believe that. 

Consider Huckle’s words in a letter of remorse written on May 23: “In no way do I want to be treated as a martyr to child sex tourism in Malaysia.”

Does such a thing exist here? 

Should we immediately dismiss that line as nothing more than the words of a monster angling for leniency?

Maybe, but think about why he chose Malaysia as his main hunting ground after he reportedly spent his gap year in 2005 as a teacher here.

Yes, he must have seen the opportunities that would come his way by working as an English teacher and photographer. 

He would have realised that in that guise, he could interact a lot with underprivileged kids.

But it is also likely that he was emboldened by the fact that Malaysia does not have a sterling record in dealing with sexual crimes against minors.

Several times in recent years, people have been outraged when statutory rape trials ended with light punishment or acquittals.

Controversy erupted last year after a Mara-sponsored mathematics student in London was convicted and imprisoned for possession of thousands of child porn videos and photographs. 

A Mara council member likened the student to “a kid who played truant” and said he should be allowed to continue his studies.

It was reported a year ago that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission did not have a specialised team to monitor the Internet for websites with child pornography content.

Subsequently, then Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said child pornography would be among issues addressed under proposed amendments to cyber laws. 

Those changes have yet to happen.

Proposals for the registration of sex offenders have been floating around from as far back as 2002, if not earlier. 

And now that details of Huckle’s case have been reported, there is again talk of the need for a sex offender registry.

Given such episodes and lack of progress, should we be shocked that we have aggressive sexual predators walking among us, including foreigners?

It is common for paedophiles to go abroad in search of victims as the laws back home are simply too strict and there are easier prey in impoverished communities. 

That is why some countries have laws that allow the authorities to go after citizens who travel elsewhere to sexually attack children.

The judge in the Huckle case said under the British law on sexual abuse of children, no distinction is made between victims in Britain or victims overseas.

We need to better protect our children, starting with treating sexual abuse of minors as a grave crime that assaults the values our society holds dear. 

If we fail to do this, more monsters will prowl our neighbourhoods.
The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.