Be mindful when charging minors under SOAC Act 2017, CRIB urges

Child Rights Innovation and Betterment (CRIB) Foundation

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KUCHING, Nov 5: Child Rights Innovation and Betterment (CRIB) Foundation is of the opinion that the act of arresting and prosecuting two teenagers in Sibu recently for sexual-related charges had failed to put primary consideration on the best interests of the children.

The organisation was referring to a recent case where two teenage children, aged 15 and 16 years old, were reportedly engaged in consensual sexual activity and had been charged under Section 14 for physical sexual assault and under Section 5 for child pornography of the Sexual Offences Against Children (SOAC) Act 2017 respectively.

It was reported that they have pleaded guilty to the charges.

In expressing grave concern on the matter, CRIB Foundation viewed that the act of arresting and prosecuting the two teenagers engaged in consensual sexual activity not amounting to statutory rape, was not only contrary to the intention and spirit of the SOAC Act and the best interests of children but a waste of public resources and government machinery.

CRIB Foundation, in a media release, thus urged the government to be mindful of the intention of the SOAC Act and to implement and enforce the law with the view of protecting children from sexual predators.

“The SOAC Act 2017 was passed in Parliament on April 4, 2017, to address the gaps in our legislation and to better protect children against sexual predators.

“At the time, it was hailed as landmark legislation in the war by Malaysia against sexual predators who preyed against children,” it emphasised.

Hence, CRIB Foundation said it was pertinent to note that Malaysia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1995, which provides that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

“UNCRC further imposed an obligation on Malaysia to ensure the child such protection and care as was necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures,” it added.

CRIB Foundation also highlighted that the Malaysian government had in 2019 launched a pilot project, known as ‘Diversion’ that aims to rehabilitate children charged with minor crimes, in line with the government’s commitment to keep to the best interest of the child at all times and which was in line with the UNCRC and to keep children out of the criminal justice system.

“The Child Act 2001 in its preamble recognised that every child is entitled to protection and assistance in all circumstances without regard to distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or physical, mental or emotional disabilities or any other status.

“Our National Child Policy provides special programmes for vulnerable children and special measures to protect child victims of sexual exploitation,” it added.

CRIB Foundation thus further urged the government to take steps to ensure that all children brought before the Malaysian courts were given access to free legal representation and that all stakeholders were continuously and properly trained in the implementation and enforcement of the SOAC Act. — DayakDaily