By Leannza Chia and Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 29 — Child rights groups said today that the courts should focus more on justice for victims of child rape cases and not perpetrators’ bright futures, amid a public uproar over how two rapists escaped jail sentences because they were considered youthful offenders.
The groups expressed concern at what appears to be a legal trend of letting convicted child rapists avoid a jail sentence, following two recent cases where two young men were each released on a RM25,000 good behaviour bond.
Former national bowler Noor Afizal Azizan and electrician Chuah Guan Jiu, were 19 and 21 respectively when they committed the offence of rape on girls who were then aged 13 and 12.
Dr Hartini Zainudin from Yayasan Chow Kit and Voice of the Children spoke out strongly against the judges’ decision in both cases.
“Why are the judges talking about bright futures of the perpetrators? ... Where is the consideration given to these young girls? Their futures? What does this say about young children raped?”
The “future” of the convicted offenders was one of the factors that the courts considered in arriving at their decision.
She also pointed out that “consensual sex can only happen if a child is 16 and above,” in reference to the courts’ consideration of apparent consent in the two cases.
“It seems there is no justice for a child victim to step forward and testify because somehow, even if they were coerced, tricked, wooed, it was consensual if there was no sign of force,” she added.
Hartini said that “judges better be more sensitive to the welfare and protection of the child — justice for them first.”
She also said there is a “very dangerous and ominous message” that “basically says, paedophiles, you can manipulate the system and victims, your rapist will get away with the crime.”
Childline project director Michelle Wong shared Hartini’s view, saying that “with the judgment on the convicted rapists, we are concerned that people will not treat statutory rape as a serious offence.”
“It’s trivialising the impact on the victim, who is still a child.”
Wong also feared that the judges’ decision would give the impression that even a 12-year-old is able to give consent as if deemed legal in court.
“Statutory rape already assumes that consent cannot be given. Why are we suddenly saying that a 12 year old giving it is alright?” said Wong.
“There is a concern that this is a precedent to be set in adult-child cases. As both the offenders are adults, the cases should be carefully looked at.
“(W)e are concerned that a child’s right to protection has been violated and statutory rape cases should have a greater focus on the child victim for whose protection the law was designed, than solely on the perpetrator,” she said in a statement to The Malaysian Insider.
Voice Of the Children’s chairman Sharmila Sekaran said, “It is disturbing to see the court lightly following the previous bowler case as a precedence.”
“The victim’s rights comes first, and we should consider her best interests. With the public outrage, it is quite clear that they feel that not enough attention is being given,” she said in a phone interview.
P.S. The Children executive director P. Nagasayee Malathy said the court sentence would create a negative impression, especially among vulnerable adolescents where there is a lack of awareness.
Malathy also said that the country “should look from the best interest of the child (who is a victim)”, pointing out that Malaysia had signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).