Parts of Act 840 come into force

PETALING JAYA: Several sections of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act 2022 (Act 840) came into force yesterday.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry will enforce Act 840 in phases and it involves Section 1 (short title and commencement); Section 2 (interpretation); Section 24 (administrator); Section 25 (functions and powers of administrator); and Section 26 (power to make regulations).

In a statement, the ministry said Act 840 is a reflection of the concern and serious commitment in addressing and eliminating gender-based discrimination, especially sexual harassment.

“The enforcement of Act 840 involves the definition of sexual harassment, elements of awareness and prevention of sexual harassment in society while taking into account the importance of education and improvement of people’s understanding as well as awareness of sexual harassment issues prior to it coming into force.

“When the understanding and awareness of sexual harassment and its effects on victims can be improved among the community, it directly provides a safer environment.

“This will help people in terms of economic, social and political empowerment while ensuring that they are not marginalised in the current national development,” the ministry said.

Structural reform through the enactment of this new Act is in line with the strategy of enhancing legal protection and increasing awareness and intervention programmes on women’s rights under the 12th Malaysia Plan 2021-2025, it added.

This is in addition to the country’s international commitments including the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

However, despite the latest announcement by the ministry, members of the Tribunal for Anti-Sexual Harassment, a critical part of the Act, have not been revealed.

The Act states that the tribunal will consist of a president and a deputy who must have judicial experience.

There will also be a minimum of five other members and they too must have judicial or legal experience.All Women’s Action Society (Awam) deputy president Ng May Yee had called for the setting up of the tribunal soon after the Act was gazetted in October last year.

Its vice-president Daniella Zulkifli said members must also be those who understand the sensitivity and complexity of issues, on top of the qualifications mentioned in the Act.

“There should also be a monitoring committee to oversee the implementation of the Act, including how effective the tribunal is.

“There should also be an automatic gag on parties until the matter is determined to protect both parties,” said Daniella.

Under the Act, “sexual harassment” means any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, in any form, whether verbal, non-verbal, visual, gestural or physical, directed at a person which is reasonably offensive or humiliating or is a threat to his well-being.

The Act seeks to address cases regardless of gender and nationality taking place in Malaysia, and victim’s compensation or redress, among others, via the Tribunal for Anti-Sexual Harassment.

Those who report it can have their case heard and expect an outcome within 60 days from the start of their hearing.

The tribunal will be conducted behind closed doors to ensure privacy of complainants.

Offenders will have to pay compensation or damages of up to RM250,000 for any loss or damage suffered by the complainant.

Defendants who fail to comply with the tribunal’s ruling can be fined or imprisoned.

The Act was first tabled on Dec 15, 2021. On July 20, 2022, the Act was passed in the Dewan Rakyat and subsequently at the Dewan Negara on Aug 11, 2022.

It was gazetted as a new Act on Oct 18, 2022 after receiving consent from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Earlier sexual harassment cases were dealt with under the Penal Code, Employment Act and Communications and Multimedia Act.

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