The Child Act 2001 is inadequate to protect children’s rights – this was the opinion and outcome of a roundtable discussion hosted by the Penang Women’s Development Corporation under YB Chong Eng, the state executive councilor for Youth and Sports, Women, Family and Community Development. Members of Parliament from Pakatan Harapan such as YB Zuraida Kamaruddin, YB Sim Chee Keong and YB Teo Nie Ching received feedback from notable NGOs such as the Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Service Civil International; and women advocates like YB Lim Siew Khim, DAP councillors Syerleena Rashid and Chris Lee, Aida Yusof Rawa from Parti Amanah, Lim Kah Cheng, and Priscilla Ho.
The objective of this meeting, held last weekend, was to work together towards eliminating sexual crimes against children. Lim Kah Cheng aptly pointed out that although the number of police cases have drastically reduced through the years, the number of cases admitted to hospitals remained the same. She also mentioned that according to international standards, for every reported case, between 8 to 10 cases goes unreported.
Also raised in the discussion was the importance of having specially trained personnel to handle cases for abuse victims to reduce the traumatic experience. Our society’s mindset is still very much bent on blaming the girls for untoward incidences. Many cases also go unreported due to shame and stigmatisation, and tedious procedure and court process.
Our Malaysian Child Act 2001 was amended in April this year to include a registry for sex offenders. However, this was done without consulting Pakatan Harapan’s leaders and the Child Act 2001 still needs elaboration for further protection of children’s rights.
The new laws introduced increased penalties for child neglect, exploitation and abuse to a maximum fine of RM50,000, 20 years’ jail or both upon conviction.
Who should report abuse cases?
At present, medical officers and medical practitioners, family members and child care providers are obliged to reporting suspected abuse cases to the Social Welfare Officer or risk being fined up to RM5000, imprisonment of up to two years, or both.
The question then arises: How about the duty of school teachers to inform the authorities?
To this, a teacher who was present in the discussion expressed that there were difficulties in reporting such cases especially if it involved school teachers as the abusers. Teachers accused of abuse are usually transferred elsewhere, however, the floor does not think that it is a good idea.
A lawyer who was also present informed the floor that in cases of child abuse, the perpetrators are usually coaxed to a guilty admission so that the victim need not relate the incident over and over again in court.
YB Sim Chee Keong recounted a few high profile cases regarding crimes against children including the Richard Huckle case, the murder of Nurin Jazlin, the ‘finger-rape’ case, and a few others. He also noted that there were 44 child marriages in Penang in 2010.
“The courts seem to be lenient towards child offenders, citing reasons like the abusers are still young and have bright futures ahead,” he said.
According to WCC, a total number of 7,240 reports were lodged of which 20 percent were charged in court. Out of these only 101 cases or 7 percent resulted in a conviction.
Registry for sex offenders
Section 118 of the Child Act states of the ‘The Register of Children’:
“The Register shall contain –
(a) Details of every case or suspected case of a child in need of protection;
(aa) Details of persons convicted of any offence in which a child is a victim; and
(b) Such other matters in relation to such case or suspected case as the Director General may from time to time determine.”
In the above matter, YB Teo Nie Ching noted that the registry should rightfullyly be ‘The Register of Sex Offenders’ and not otherwise. The members of parliament present in the discussion will push for further amendments in this direction.
Two sets of law
Syerleena Rashid, highlighted that the problem of having two sets of law – Syariah and the Civil Court Law – and that it must be resolved to address issues like child marriages.
YB Zuraida Kamaruddin from Parti Keadilan Rakyat opined that children, especially girls, should have the opportunity to education, and not start a family before they are ready.
“Parents of young girls who are victims of sexual abuse should not be married off to the abusers as this will not solve anything,” she said. “The definition of rape must also be elaborated so that perpetrators will not get away with lame excuses like ‘no penile penetration’.”
YB Chong Eng closed the session expressing hopes that the parliamentarians are able to forward the details of this discussion to parliament in the next session, which will be in October, to counter the problems faced by victims of sexual abuse.
“Our main aims are to raise awareness about sexual crimes against children and also to work towards eliminating sexual crimes against children,” said YB Chong Eng.
The hotline for crimes against children is 15999.
Written by: Carolyn Khor