Tackle sexual exploitation with comprehensive measures

Develop policies to emulate the success of countries like Sweden and Singapore in battling sexual exploitation and the illicit sex trade


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By Pravin Periasamy

In the Malaysian context, the authorities have maintained their strict stance of outlawing all forms of prostitution under Section 32B of the Penal Code – and for good reason.

Prostitution, upon close examination, not only gravely upsets the societal order but is repeatedly weaponised to groom vulnerable women into forcefully participating in the illegal sex trade. It surreptitiously facilitates human trafficking through various organised criminal networks of brothels.

Nationwide, prostitution has worsened and newfound initiatives are required in the battle against it. The Malaysian authorities maintain that blanket criminalisation of prostitution is an important moral and ethical consideration which upholds sovereignty and agency – counteracting against potential sexual exploitation.

The government also believes that the illicit sex industry acts as a catalyst for sex trafficking and views prostitution as a form of slavery and an expression of structural inequalities. It is presently working to crack down on illegal brothels throughout the nation.

The underlying rationale for Malaysia’s position revolves around how prostitution encroaches on the free will of women. It is often a one-sided exploitation due to the nature of the power dynamics involved between powerful criminals and vulnerable women. Another reason to fight the illicit sex trade is predicated upon the need to heed religious and cultural sensitivities.

The outlawing of prostitution and the harsh penalties imposed on perpetrators have been effective in protecting women from criminals.

However, the authorities must also be compassionate and protect victims of the sex trade who are abducted from abroad or coerced. Many are deprived of their identity documents and have no means of returning to their country of origin.

READ MORE:  Why would prostitution be 'halal' for foreigners?

What Malaysia must study are the various approaches other countries have taken to protect and assist victims of the illegal flesh trade. They need temporary accommodation and safe repatriation.

The sex trade emerges out of deeply embedded and covert structures that are interwoven. These have allowed organised criminal networks to amass the power necessary to prey upon vulnerable women.

The Malaysian authorities need to cripple these criminal networks. They must adopt comprehensive approaches to eliminate the illegal sex trade while protecting the victims’ welfare.

We need to address this issue at various levels in the future – from the protection of women to the penalisation of criminals.

The Malaysian authorities may have to consider the criticisms raised by various parties and ensure that it can implement new initiatives to better help vulnerable women who are victims of prostitution.

Sexual exploitation is heinous and on the rise. It is incumbent on the Malaysian government to develop programmes and policies to emulate the success of countries like Sweden, Singapore and Switzerland in battling sexual exploitation and the illicit sex trade.

Pravin Periasamy is the networking and partnership director at the Malaysian Philosophy Society.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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