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THE legal definition of rape has come into the spotlight again with renewed calls for it to be amended and broadened.
This comes after the Child (Amendment) Act was gazetted on Monday with four main amendments – an expanded Child Registry, heavier penalties for abuse or neglect of children, community service order for children involved in crime and parents or guardians who abuse or neglect their children, and family-based care for abandoned children.
There had been hopes among women’s advocates, including Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, that the amendments would include a broader definition of rape.
Fatimah said her ministry had been pursuing this change since the Court of Appeal’s acquittal of a 60-year-old man in the “finger rape” case last May because the definition of rape only covered penile penetration.
“There was a big furore from the public and even from us. I wrote a letter on behalf of the state government to the federal Attorney-General to review the definition of rape so that there will be justice for the victims.
“The reply we received then was that comprehensive amendments would be made to the Child Act. Now it looks like it does not include the definition of rape.
“Of course that would be very disappointing to us. We are still waiting for the definition to be amended. Maybe it will be done through an amendment to the Penal Code,” she said this week.
Fatimah is right to raise this matter again, particularly as it has been over a year since the “finger rape” case when calls were made for legal amendments to ensure justice for victims.
As she noted, the current definition is too specific.
“We want the perpetrators to be punished accordingly. We do not want them to be let off the hook because of the definition. That is unfair to the victim,” she said.
Echoing Fatimah’s call, the Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) said prompt legal reform was needed to protect women and children.
It pointed out that the definition of sexual abuse in the Child Act was wider than the definition of rape in the Penal Code, but that police and prosecutors generally referred to the Penal Code when bringing charges rather than the wider scope of the Child Act.
As such, it said the Penal Code should be amended urgently to broaden the definition of rape to include fingers and other objects.
This would also be in line with what the Court of Appeal judges in the “finger rape” case said about changing or adding to the definition of rape, SWWS noted, adding that the amendment should be expedited.
Of similar concern is the decision by the Sessions Court in Kuching this week to discharge a man of statutory rape on the grounds that he married the victim.
Commenting on the decision, Fatimah said the accused should be prosecuted as he had committed the offence – twice – before marrying the girl.
“We don’t want this case to create a precedent for perpetrators to get away from paying for their crime by marrying the victims,” she added.
SWWS vice-president Ann Teo also had strong words on the decision, saying it sent the message that men could get away with statutory rape through marriage to the underage girls.
“Something is wrong in society if a child is told to marry her rapist to avoid shame,” she said, adding that girls in such positions must be supported and given help by society rather than forced into a marriage of convenience.
These cases highlight the urgent need for concerted action to protect women and children better, from amending the necessary laws and enforcing them effectively to put in place proper support systems and services.
Our priority should be to uphold justice, not only in ensuring that perpetrators are brought to book but in providing support and care for victims.
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