KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) are urging the government to review all laws that subject children to detention without trial, such as the Prevention of Crime Act (Amendment) 2017 (Poca), under which 142 juveniles are being detained.
Suhakam Commissioner Jerald Joseph said that the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child should only be the last resort and only for the shortest appropriate amount of time as being in police custody could have adverse impacts on the child’s future and wellbeing.
Detaining children under Poca or other laws which allow detention without trial also goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Malaysia is a state party to, he said.
“As for children currently detained under Poca, the commission urges the authorities to either release them or let them have their day in court.
“Children who have had their liberty deprived must be given access to legal assistance such as lawyers.
“We also recommend that children below 18 detained under Poca should not be put in the same adult prison as other suspects,” he said in a joint press conference with Suaram here yesterday.
As at the end of 2017, there was an estimated 142 young Malaysians below 18 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 that has the power to issue a maximum two-year detention order or restricted residence, which requires them to wear an electronic monitoring device (EMD).
There is no trial in any court of law for Poca 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.
Suhakam Commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng said that detention not only has psychological effects on the child such as depression but also poses an emotional burden on the family.
“There are other alternatives to detention without trial.
“If the children are involved in crime, then they should be charged in court and not detained without trial,” she said.
Suhakam and Suaram also recommended the government come up with lenient alternatives to institutional care in order to rehabilitate the children.
Meanwhile, Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said that although not all detainees were sent to prison, some, including children, were put under restricted residence and strapped with an EMD, which confines them to within a 10km radius of their homes, and brands them as detainees.
“We urge for all juveniles detained without trial to be released and for a special rehabilitation programme to be developed to help them.
“All Investigation Officers (IOs) who detain children under Poca must also be investigated to see why they used Poca and not the Penal Code,” he said.
Suhakam Commissioner Prof Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin said the punishment given to children must be towards rehabilitating them and helping them return to the folds of society.
“There are enough laws to deal with juvenile offenders. Children should not be subjected to the kind of repression that Poca brings because there is already an open court system for trying a minor, and also a juvenile court.
“Detention of a child must be the last resort.
“We fear the number of children detained will increase if nothing is done,” she said.
Poca was among the laws that the Pakatan Harapan government had described as “oppressive” and “tyrannical” in its general election manifesto.
It pledged to revoke Poca and scrap draconian laws, including the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) and Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota).
However, last December, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the government would retain Poca and Sosma.