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COMMENT | Girls have the right to be safe from child exploitation

COMMENT | We do not deserve to be treated this way. Every day, child exploitation is increasing and this causes unnecessary phobia and fear in young girls. 

Girls who have been exploited live their lives in pain but sadly they are not allowed to voice out nor speak about what has been done to them. Child exploitation is bad and it is definitely not safe for young girls such as myself. We girls should not have to suffer for another person’s benefit and gain.

I am aware that there are girls out there who are around my age or even younger who are having to work for a living. Child labour, a form of child exploitation, refers to situations where young girls are coerced to work for little or no remuneration, often under threat of punishment, such as being forced with violence or based on accumulated debt that cannot be settled.

I disagree with child labour because we should let young girls decide their own future and let them do what they love. We should not force them to work in jobs they do not wish to pursue because they are still learning how to face the world and are yet to make a decision on their career path. 

At my age, I personally do not think I could work for any industry because I am still at the learning stage. Girls my age have not learnt enough skills and will not know yet how to manage working life, thus we are not ready to work. 

It is sad to see young children who are forced to work to get money to survive due to either parental or other external pressures.

Besides labour exploitation of children, child grooming and child marriage is also a form of child exploitation, and it affects young and teenage girls especially. 

Child grooming is when a person builds a relationship based on trust and emotional connection with a child, however, the person does not actually care for them. Instead, the person wishes to manipulate and abuse them. 

This is an act I vehemently disagree with because I don’t understand how people have the audacity to manipulate a child’s trust into something abusive. 

The people who groom children can be family members such as their fathers or uncles. They can also be close family friends as well as kidnappers, or other adults who have ill-intentions to use them for their own pleasures or to abuse them. 

Grooming will be more easily done by a family member as the child usually has already built a strong relationship and trust with this person since they were little. This trust can obscure the true intentions of the child groomer, and make the child confused and struggle with knowing what is right and wrong.

Child grooming can lead to child marriage which is actually legal in Malaysia. I strongly object to this. I can’t imagine being married at this age. My peers are still trying to figure out their lives and plan for a future. 

Marriage is something that should only happen after a person is fully aware of what they are getting into when forming this bond. This should only be at an age when they are able to give informed consent. 

In addition, education should always come first, especially in today’s world. This is because, without it, women may not be able to get work or access opportunities outside the home. Their husbands might use this as a reason to humiliate and abuse them resulting in depression as well as the loss of self-esteem. 

Being forced into child marriage makes it difficult to get a proper education that empowers a girl to stand up for her rights and child marriage will only destroy her life.

To me, child exploitation is caused by two reasons. One of them is parents or family members who use their children to get income or additional money, often because they have no choice. This is cruel to the children, who have rights just as adults do, and should not be treated unfairly or have their happiness and comfort sacrificed. 

The second reason is that children are not given a voice to speak up about how they are being treated. People abuse children more easily than adults because children have limited life experiences and are still developing their critical thinking skills, making them easy targets for exploitation.

I feel many people do not realise how serious child exploitation can be and how it can affect a child’s life and future. In my opinion, proper education on this matter is important. 

The right for young girls to be safe from child exploitation, child marriage and the dangers that come with both can be added to the school curriculum so that boys and girls can be more aware and learn how to avoid becoming victims.

As a community, we can help stop and prevent child exploitation by sharing information and having meaningful conversations about it so that people in our lives and the public can realise its dangers and the implications it will have on a child’s life. Sharing information on the Internet can raise awareness on the matter and hopefully prevent it. 

We need to help and support children, especially girls, to find their voice so that they can bravely speak up about how they feel. We should always teach girls to be confident and stand up for their rights because if they continue to keep silent and bottle up their feelings, the world will fail to realise the detrimental effects of child exploitation.

The law in Malaysia does not do enough to protect young girls from exploitation. There is the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) as well as the Women, Families and Community Development Ministry, and they do try their best in protecting women. However, the enforcement of those laws and protection is not strong enough to ensure exploitation doesn’t occur. 

I hope that Malaysia will pay more attention to strengthen legal enforcement to provide better protection for women and girls, regardless of their race and religion because every woman and girl deserves the right to be safe.

PREESHA, 15, is a Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) 'Girls Takeover' representative.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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