PETALING JAYA, Jan 10 — Child rights groups have lauded Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi’s decision to call for a review of the current juvenile justice system.
Yesterday, at the convention on transformation measures towards a crime-free generation, Zahid said the existing criminal laws in relation to juveniles were too focused on punitive measures and needed to be re-examined in response to the 159 children arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and Prevention of Crime Act 1959.
He said the focus should be on rehabilitation to prevent juveniles from committing serious offences in the future as a prison term may not be an ideal solution because they may be influenced by other, more hardened inmates.
While praising Zahid’s call for a review, Voice of the Children chairperson, Sharmila Sekaran, highlighted two aspects that should be looked into: what constitutes a crime and what sentence should be handed down.
“We need to determine whether to criminalise a behaviour because juveniles are still young.
“For example, a child is institutionalised for shoplifting because it is a criminal offence but he could have done it for fun,” she said.
Sharmila said detention would severely affect a child’s psychological growth as he is put behind bars at an early age.
“It is true they have to reflect on what they have done and be remorseful but we practically destroy their lives if they get a chance to rejoin society because their identity would have been reduced to prison numbers and a convict in the public’s eye,” she said.
Sharmila also said a diversion was needed to keep some juvenile offenders out of the justice system as it has certain flaws.
“We need to maintain that the court is a serious, onerous and a scary place as we have cases where juveniles do not even comprehend the system they were tried in.
“Some have been forced to admit to an offence just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and locked away for a petty crime,” she said.
She said there was a need to look into the rehabilitation aspect of juvenile offenders to ensure they do not reoffend by making parents accountable for their child’s behaviour.
“As the prime stakeholders, they must set aside their differences for the sake of their child,” she said.
Yayasan Chow Kit founder Hartini Zainudin also agreed that juvenile justice laws need to be overhauled as they focused on punitive measures for different categories of juvenile criminal offences.
“In terms of ensuring children receive punishment for their wrongdoings, we need to look at all aspects including how imprisonment may impact their life,” she said.
Hartini said a wide range of criminal offences and segregation among juveniles could be considered depending on the severity of the crimes committed.
“I think it’s wrong to mix every juvenile together with serious offenders when some might be influenced by them.
“Those that commit petty crimes may be offered counselling or extensive community service as part of their rehabilitation process,” she said.
She said the existing rehabilitation programs could be improved further to reduce the intake of detention schools.
“We need a more comprehensive orientation curriculum so these juveniles can go back to society and adapt,” she said.