KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) are calling for the government to give justice to the 142 juveniles detained without trial under the Prevention of Crime Act (Amendment) 2017 (Poca).
They also called for the government to review all laws that subject children to detention without trial as this would negatively affect the lives of the young ones.
Suhakam Commissioner Jerald Joseph said no children should be detained under Poca or other any other law that allows detention without trial, as it was against the Convention on the Rights of children (CRC), which Malaysia is a state party to.
"In line with Article 37 (b) of the CRC, it is recommended that the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
"As for children currently detained under Poca, the Commission urges the authorities to either release them, or let them have a fair trial in court if there is proof that they are involved in criminal activities.
"Children who have had their liberty deprived must be given access to legal assistance, such as lawyers.
"Also, we agree that children below 18 detained under Poca should not be put in the same adult prison as other suspects," Joseph said in a joint press conference with Suaram here on Wednesday (30 Jan).
As at the end of 2017, there was an estimated 142 juveniles below 21 years of age detained under Poca, a law that allows police custody for a maximum of 60 days of remand without trial.
Following the 60-day detention period, the detainee would have his or her case heard before the Prevention of Crime Board, which has the power to sentence the detainee for a period of not more than two years.
And they may extend it if they find that further detention is necessary to protect public order, public security or prevention of crime.
Children below 18 are also subject to this, with Joseph saying that on Suhakam's visit to Kluang Prison in July last year, it was informed that at least 10 of the young prisoners were arrested when they were below 18, with most being related to theft cases.
"The children in detention were having health problems such as scabies, and the quality of the food and hygiene at the prison was not good for these vulnerable children," said Joseph.
Some of the children were also still attending school when they were arrested, he said.
The bodies also recommended that the government came up with lenient alternatives to institutional care, in order to rehabilitate the children. This should include care, guidance and supervision, counselling, educational and also training programmes.
Meanwhile, Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said although not all detainees were sent to prison, some, including children, were detained under house arrest and strapped with a electronic monitoring device (EMD), which confine them within a 10km radius.
"We urge that all juveniles detained without trial be released and for a special rehabilitation programme to be developed to help them.
"All Investigation Officers (IO) who detain children under Poca must also be investigated to see why they used Poca, and not the Penal Code," he said.
Sevan also added that if the Pakatan Harapan government was truly committed to abolishing draconian laws, it would release the children and also pay appropriate compensation to them.
Poca was among the laws that the Pakatan government had described as oppressive and tyrannical in its election manifesto.
It pledged to revoke Poca and scrap draconian laws, including Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) and Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota).
However, on Dec 2018, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the government would continue with Poca and Sosma.