Child pornography sites hosted in Singapore on the rise
Experts say close monitoring needed to prevent possibility of developing paedophilia
Singapore accounts for a disproportionate number of Asia's webpages containing images of child sexual abuse, a disturbing trend that experts say need close monitoring.
The island made up 12 per cent of nearly 2,000 such webpages hosted across the continent last year, found Britain-based charity Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
The majority involved children aged 10 and below.
Some of the photographs and videos depicted sadism, penetrative sexual activity or such activity with an animal.
Such Singapore-hosted webpages almost doubled in the first 10 months of this year, to 412.
This is up from 211 last year, and 10 and 13 in 2015 and 2014 respectively.
The jump, which comes amid a worldwide increase, worries experts here who said an attraction to child pornography could lead to paedophilia, if not treated.
"Those who view sexual abuse imagery of children may start off being curious due to the availability online," said clinical psychologist Matthew Woo, who also treats sex offenders.
"If they continue, it will escalate and they could develop paedophilia."
Last year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 107 cases of sexual abuse involving children, up from 82 in 2015.
Others note that the hosts of the webpages may not be physically based in Singapore, which is a hub for such webhosting services. Therein lies the difficulty of nabbing the perpetrators.
Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said: "While the police can take action if they come to learn of obscene material on Singapore-hosted URLs, the issue is identifying the perpetrators. Anyone can buy a domain space and hide behind anonymity."
Cyber security researcher Lam Kwok Yan said it is easy to use a complex networking approach to hide one's location, making it challenging to monitor content online.
IWF, which was formed in 1996 and focuses on removing child sexual abuse images, said that globally, over 57,000 URLs last year were found to have child sexual abuse imagery, have links to it or to advertise it.
Of these, 92 per cent were hosted in five countries: the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, France and Russia.
IWF data and the charity did not say how many websites the Singapore-hosted URLs belonged to. One website may have multiple URLs.
When IWF identifies such webpages, it passes the information to Interpol, which would then liaise with the host countries, its director of external relations Emma Hardy told ST. Local authorities are expected to work with their Internet service providers (ISPs) to have the content removed if it is deemed illegal under domestic laws.
When contacted, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said that it works with ISPs to restrict public access to a limited number of sites as a "symbolic statement" and updates the list from time to time.
However, "sites that are used to facilitate illegal activities will be restricted for public safety and security reasons", said a spokesman.
She added that ISPs are required to exercise judgment to ensure that their content and services comply with the local regulations.
Under IMDA's Internet Code of Practice, a licensee is to use his best efforts to ensure prohibited material is not broadcast here.
Younger S'poreans seeking treatment for child porn
Younger Singaporeans are seeking treatment after finding themselves drawn to child pornography.
Clinical psychologist Matthew Woo of the Adelphi Families and Youth Centre said that easy access to child pornography online may have contributed to more people, particularly youth, developing an unhealthy interest in such material.
He currently sees about five clients aged between 15 and 17 for such issues.
About five years ago, such clients were in their mid-20s to 30s and came to him after they had committed a sexual offence, or had been outed by family members.
"Some websites are blocked, but it takes a while for sites to be detected and taken down," said Dr Woo. "It may start with curiosity but, if they continue, it could escalate to paedophilia. Early treatment is advisable."
People may be attracted to child sexual abuse imagery due to "deviant sexual interests and fantasies", said Ms Jeanie Chu of the Resilienz Clinic.
In some cases, individuals may have paedophilic disorder, she added. - THE STRAITS TIMES