KUALA LUMPUR: Dewan Rakyat has voted to pass a bill to enact laws to protect both men and women against sexual harassment.
"The law is for all Malaysians.
"It is a manifestation of the commitment of the government to prevent sexual harassment among the genders," Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun said in Parliament on Wednesday (July 20).
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Although the law is more towards protection of women against sexual harassment, she noted the law will also apply to men also.
"The sexual harassment laws cover all individuals irrespective of gender," she said.
Under the law, those found to have those committing sexual harassment may end up paying their victims a sum of up to RM250,000 in compensation or in default, serve a two-year jail term.
Apart from being ordered to make restitution for losses suffered by the victim, an offender will also be required to issue an apology.
If the sexual harassment was done in public, the offender will be required to make a public apology.
Rina also said that companies will also be required to display anti-sexual harassment poster or materials in the workplace.
"We have also agreed to increase the penalty from RM10,000 to RM50,000 for companies who fail to manage incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace," she added.
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She said an action plan has been drafted to implement the law once it becomes enforceable.
The minister also said that that sexual harassment cases will be dealt with by a 12-member Anti-Sexual Harassment Tribunal to be set up for the purpose.
"For a start, the tribunal will be set up in the Klang Valley.
"However, the tribunal can sit and hear more than one case which can be held at any venue," she said.
The tribunal will comprise a president and deputy president, who will be appointed from among members of the judiciary.
The remaining members will be made up of former members of the judiciary or experienced practising lawyers and those with expertise in sexual harassment laws.
She said both the complainant and accused have the right to be present during proceedings.
"A victim will have the right to legal representation.
"This right is extended to the accused if the victim engaged a lawyer.
"However, the right to legal representation will only apply if the case involves complex legal issues," she added.
An award made by the tribunal is akin to a court order and is final with appeals to the High Court for a judicial review allowed on serious breaches of procedural matters, Rina said.
She noted that a victim of sexual harassment will still have the right to lodge a police report or file civil proceedings against an offender.
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She said that the tribunal has the power to reject complaints that are unreasonable and frivolous.
"Those who are wrongly accused of committing sexual harassment will be able to lodge a criminal defamation report against the complainant," she added.
Earlier, Rina told the House that efforts to enact sexual harassment laws were initiated in 2011 and after numerous engagement sessions, the proposed law was finally tabled in Dewan Rakyat last Dec 15.
She said the proposed law in line with the United Nations Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and Article 8 of the Federal Constitution on gender equality.
She noted that a survey carried out in 2019 on 28,852 respondents revealed that 62% felt that the nation lacked anti-sexual harassment laws.
"A majority of them or 93.7% said they would have refrained from coming forward to lodge reports due to being shamed or lack of evidence," she added.
The Bill was tabled by Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff for its first reading in Dewan Rakyat last December.
The proposed law was supposed to have been passed during the previous Dewan Rakyat meeting in March but was deferred to allow for more feedback from stakeholders and the public.
The Bill was passed by a majority voice vote.
The Bill will now go through the Senate and receive the royal assent before being gazetted for enforcement.