More than 90 per cent of some 1,000 adolescents aged between 13-17 years old have expressed they want education that will help them protect against sexual abuse, both online and offline. Other findings are:
- 1 in 5 (20%) say that it is OK or maybe OK for teenagers to date people they’ve met online
- 1 in 2 (53%) say that teenagers are being pressured to engage in sexual activity
- Disaggregated data from Johor, Kedah and Penang revealed that 65% of girls say teens are being pressured to engage in sexual activity as compared to 30% of the boys.
The youth opinion polls were carried out between March and September 2017 during the #SayaSayangSaya townhalls in eight states across Malaysia, namely Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu.
#SayaSayangSaya in anchored on the belief that self-respect is at the forefront of any healthy relationship. The townhalls provided 1,564 young people from 316 schools with a safe space to learn and discuss issues relating to healthy teen relationships, teen online dating and internet-related sexual violence. The year-long initiative also emphasised the need for quality reproductive health education for children.
“Children and youth at the townhalls shared with us that many of their friends are being pressured to engage in sexual activity – both online and offline including at home – and they are looking for guidance on how to better protect themselves”, said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia, Ms. Marianne Clark-Hattingh. “Teenage pregnancies, baby dumping, and early or forced marriage can partly be attributed to the absence of reproductive health education in schools and the reluctance of many parents to discuss sex and sexuality with their teenage children.”
According to data collected by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, child sexual abuse in Malaysia has been rising over the past five years, with 5,052 cases reported during that period. 824 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2016.
Mr. Philip Ling, Digi’s Programme Manager for Digi CyberSAFETM said, “The findings from the #SayaSayangSaya opinion polls once again reinforces the need to pro-actively and continually build digital resiliency in our children against the threats such as sexting, pornography and cybergrooming. We want to empower them to recognise the risk and to act accordingly with confidence age-appropriate and quality reproductive health education in schools.”
“All the sessions brought us closer to the various concerns on ground but most of all, we hear everyone loud and clear – reproductive health education in schools is very much needed,” said Ms. Low Ngai Yuen, President and Founder of WOMEN: girls.
The rights of adolescents to age-appropriate and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education were recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its concluding observation report to Malaysia as far as back as 2007. Such education should also incorporate what constitutes a relationship.
Healthy teen relationships based on mutual respect; honesty, trust, support for one another, as well as fairness and equality are the most effective protection against adolescent risk behaviors. Healthy peer or dating relationships can protect young teens from the pressures to engage in risk behaviors.
In July this year, the The Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 came into effect as one measure to protect children against violence and digital harm such as cybergrooming.
“Passing the new laws against child sexual crimes was never going to be enough. We need more awareness and education to prevent child sexual crimes, and that’s exactly what R.AGE is committed to doing through the Predator In My Phone and the Saya Sayang Saya campaign with UNICEF, Digi and Women:girls,” said Mr. Ian Yee, Deputy Executive Editor, R.AGE.
The townhalls were organised by Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd (Digi), R.AGE, WOMEN:girls and UNICEF; and supported by the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM) and the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM).