A Safe Cyberspace for Children? (Legally Speaking)

By: Sonny Zulhuda

The title above is a paper I co-wrote with colleagues from Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) which is recently published in the IIUM Law Journal and to be precise on its October 2020 special issue on Law and Digitalisation. I thank the main author for this piece my colleague Dr. Md. Zahidul Islam, an expert in Media Law and the other co-authors Dr. Nor Hafizah Mohd Badrol Afandi and Mr. Mohamed Affan Shafy who have all put their contribution to this work.

The background of this paper starts from the fact that easy accessibility of electronic devices connected to the internet and the widespread usage of the internet in every aspect of modern lives have made the use of social media an indispensable part of society. These technologically driven dependence has brought detrimental implications as much as they have benefited lives.

Each day, more and more children are introduced to the internet and its benefits, either at home as a means of entertainment, or at school as a means of education. However, these opportunities provide avenues for the children to explore the ever-expanding vastness of the internet, leading to exposure of indecent materials, and accessing and participating in websites not meant for the usage by underage children. The glorification of social media websites through targeted advertisements and peer pressure adds to the already worsening crises of social media abuse through unlawful means.

Former PM Tun Mahathir noted with a deep concern in his blog as follows:

“The internet has played a major role in undermining public morality. Our children are not safe from the kind of filth that the print and electronic media promote. Today any child can access pornography of the worse kind. Children are no longer safe from sexual assault. So are young girls and boys as the internet arouses the kind of base feelings that we curbed before…. Incest, child sex, sex with animals, sexual parties, sex in public and many other practices which we still feel are wrong will soon be a part of the expression of freedom and equality. All these will be promoted on the internet.”

Dr. Mahathir rightly pointed out how devastating this side of the Internet could be. Even the judiciary had openly and increasingly showed their concern on this unintended effect of the Internet. Datuk David J., as he then was, at the High Court of Kota Kinabalu gave us this judicial notice:

“In this day and age of Internet where with free flow of information from cyber space, young people are exposed to things which the older generation could not have imagined. Such exposure had no doubt also made the art of parenthood much more difficult in dealing with such social issues… (and) in some cases, it had made it impossible. The value of society changes as each year passes by and because of such change, it of course has made the job of Court much more difficult especially on such issues.”

(From case: PP v Zainuddin bin Adam [2012] MLJU 684).

With the above concerns as the background, this article examines the protective measures taken by the authorities, especially in Malaysia and Singapore, to protect children from the internet and social media related issues. The data is acquired doctrinally from library sources and the finding of this article could be extended to other areas of protecting young children from the harms of the internet.

You are all invited to read the piece, and thank you for dropping by! 🙂

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