Can the law nip rising juvenile violence?

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 24 Sep 2017

“THEY better stay in prison forever.”

It was an emotional remark from an anguished mother.

Noor Azlina Bakry, 36, lost her 11-year-old son in the Sept 14 school fire in Kuala Lumpur. Her despair turned to fury with the news that seven teenagers had been arrested on suspicion of starting the blaze.

The case is being investigated not only under Section 435 of the Penal Code for mischief by fire, but also under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder.

The rallying calls for the boys, aged 11 to 18, to be tried as adults have grown louder after the Fire and Rescue Department said that the fire that engulfed Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, killing 21 students and two teachers, was incendiary, or intentionally ignited.

There were even calls for the death penalty that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and the de facto law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said had to issue a statement that the “death penalty is not an option”.

Many legal experts share her view.

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese has affirmed that the suspects in this case cannot be tried as adults; the Child Act regards anyone below 18 as a “child”.

“The Child Act bars the sentence of death, if one has committed an offence whereby the death penalty can be imposed, if they are below 18, by virtue of Section 97 of the Child Act. The person will be detained at the pleasure of the King,” he was quoted as saying.

However, he also explained that the suspects will not be tried in a “child court” because it involves an offence punishable with death.

The fear among many, especially parents, is that the young will commit more violent crimes if harsher punishments are not meted.

Varughese disagrees.

“There is no data that suggests that severe punishment is a deterrent factor for crimes,” he says when contacted.

He believes this issue should be addressed through the different social institutions, especially schools.

“We must relook our education and social welfare systems to address this. For one, there should be comprehensive SOPs put in place to prevent bullying.

“And there should be a system put in place to ensure that children who are out of school are properly supervised.”

He says partnerships between every school and the police should also be fostered.

“And there should be one uniform body regulating all schools, welfare homes, religious schools, orphanages, institutions,” he says.

Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan also thinks that children’s rights should be prioritised.

“There is nothing in the law that allows a child to be ‘tried as an adult’.

“And I think for good reasons – when the Act was enacted and when we ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we are saying that children should be protected, including those who are on the wrong side of the law.

“I do not see the need to depart from this just because there is a perceived increase in serious crimes amongst minors.”

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Youth , Courts & Crime , teen violence


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