KUCHING: PKR Women National Vice-Chief Voon Shiak Ni urged Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman to quickly address issues regarding the protection of children against sexual abuse.
Azalina, 52, replaced her predecessor, Nancy Shukri, as de-facto law minister in a minor Cabinet reshuffle on July 14.
“There are serious grey areas in our legal system and our children must not be made to suffer due to the inadequacy and numerous flaws in our legal system,” Voon told the media here today.
Prior to the reshuffle, Nancy had said work was going on to amend the definition of rape under the Penal Code and make improvements to the laws dealing with the criminal act.
One notorious case was the “finger-rape” involving a 60-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl in 2011.
The suspect, Bunya Jalong, was acquitted and discharged of four counts of raping the teen at a hotel in Sibu, after he said he had inserted his semen-smeared finger into the girl’s vagina. This was despite the girl giving birth to a baby boy later and a subsequent DNA test proving that Bunya was the biological father.
Existing laws limit the definition of rape to penile penetration without consent.
Voon said the most important issue that needs to be addressed is to amend the statutory rape laws to expand the definition of rape to ensure perpetrators of sexual offences face the legal consequences of the sexual crimes they committed.
Referring to the “finger-rape” case, Voon said: “Now, the young girl has to raise a child of the rapist and there is no child support ordered by the Court of Appeal, too.”
Voon called on Azalina to prioritise the matter and follow up and finalise work already carried out by Nancy.
“Nancy Shukri had responded positively to welfare issues, especially those concerning sexual abuse and harassment.
“I think she had given a quick and positive response. Of course, that includes our (Sarawak) Welfare, Women and Community Minister Fatimah Abdullah. We praise them for their good efforts,” Voon said.
“Azalina has only been in office for a short time. So we’ll see if she will respond to the calls by civil society, especially recently where there has been much controversy surrounding rape, child abuse and child marriage.”
Voon said the issues must be addressed immediately as they had an “adverse effect” on civil society and women NGOs will continue to exert pressure for “positive amendments”.
Azalina has been appointed by Prime Minister Najib Razak to head a new task force to review child protection laws. The task force will consist of parliamentarians, representatives from the Malaysian Shariah Legal Association, academicians and women NGOs.
Voon also welcomed the announcement by Najib last week that civil courts will have precedence in interfaith divorces after amendments to the law are made when Parliament reconvenes in October.
However, Voon said there was a need to look into legal protection for children under the provisions of statutory rape and Section 18 of the shariah law, which allows child marriage, with the consent of the state shariah court.
“There are already a few cases where the rapists had tried to circumvent the consequences of their commission of child rape by marrying the victim using shariah laws,” Voon said.
There were 9,061 child marriages over the last five years, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry revealed in April.
A total of 6,286 Muslim youths – aged below 18 for males and below 16 for females – married between 2010 and 2015 following approval by the shariah courts.
The legal age of marriage for non-Muslims is 18.
In Sabah and Sarawak, non-Muslims below 16 can marry under customary laws or with the approval of the chief minister.