Sexual assault laws to be made clear

KUALA LUMPUR: Following the passing of the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill, the Penal Code will be amended to plug the loopholes in existing sexual assault laws.

The Government hopes to table the proposed amendments to the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2017 for its second and third readings before Parliament ends this week, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

“I hope by tomorrow or the day after,” she said when met at her office yesterday.

The Bill, tabled on Monday for its first reading, sought to amend Section 377CA of the current Penal Code (Act 574) to make it an offence to insert any object or part of the body other than the penis into the victim’s private parts.

Such sexual assaults by objects or body parts will be punishable by a jail term of between five and 30 years and whipping.

The proposed amendment is in line with the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Shafiee Awang whereby the court decided and interpreted that a finger is included in the definition of “object” under Section 377CA of Act 574.

The legislation also evoked the finger-rape case of Bunya Jalong, then 60, who was acquitted and discharged by the Court of Appeal in May 2015 of raping a minor in Sibu in 2011.

Bunya denied raping the girl as there was no penile penetration but admitted that he had inserted his semen-smeared finger into her vagina, resulting in her pregnancy.

The acquittal sparked many calls for the current definition of rape to be amended.

Earlier, the Dewan Rakyat passed the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 with several amendments after a gruelling two-day debate.

The Bill introduced a new clause which seeks to allow the court to order rehabilitative counselling and police supervision on a person convicted for any offence under the Bill.

The proposed Bill also amended Section 18 which presumes that a child is competent to give evidence unless the court thinks otherwise.

In its replacement is that the court may convict a perpetrator on the basis of uncorroborated evidence of a child, given upon oath or otherwise.

Asked how soon the Bill would come into force, Azalina said it would go through the usual process of being debated and passed in the Dewan Negara and subsequently receiving the royal assent.

Teo Nie Ching (DAP-Kulai) insisted child marriages be included as an offence under this Bill but it was not accepted.

Azalina said while she understood the concerns of the lawmakers, who are also practising lawyers, the Government would not budge from its interpretation on the sections.

“If we continue to debate this way, it sounds like the Opposition lawmakers are defending the perpetrators and not protecting the victims who are children,” she said.

To this, Dr Michael Jeyakumar (PSM-Sungai Siput) said the minister’s statement “hit below the belt” as everyone supported the Bill and only wanted it to be free of loopholes.

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