No need for jail, ‘diversion approach’ will do for kids

PETALING JAYA: There is no need to send children who commit minor offences to jail, or even charge them in court.

Instead, the “diversion approach” can rehabilitate them and prevent them from further criminal acts or recidivism, say experts.

Diversion involves intervention measures like community-based services, programmes or activities, guidance and supervision orders, counselling, education and vocational training, all without formal judicial proceedings.

“This will help the child avoid the stigma of detention and the negative effects of court proceedings,” said Children’s Commissioner Dr Farah Nini Dusuki.

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She said research had shown children to be more amenable to change and responsive after rehabilitation efforts.

“It is very important that when a child has committed an offence, we see them as a child first and offender second.

“Depending on the types of offences committed, for example theft, the child should be treated so that they do not go back to their tendencies.

“Research has shown that the more you deal with them correctly, the better the chances of rehabilitation.

“Incarceration should be the last resort,” she said, adding that the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry’s diversion pilot project in 2019 in Sepang, Seremban and Port Dickson, had shown positive results in rehabilitating children below the age of 18.

She also said most children who have run-ins with the law were from the high-risk groups, such as victims of abuse, neglect, poor parenting or economic difficulties.

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“These children are left on their own most of the time. Without guidance from adults, they cannot make informed decisions,” she said.

Farah Nini added that the Henry Gurney Schools, which were established to care for young offenders, have also been doing a good job with rehabilitation programmes that include education and vocational training.

“When you give children a second chance, they will live up to it,” she said.

Criminologist Dr Zalmizy Hussin said family, peer, school, community, and society can all influence the development and behaviour of children and adolescents.

“Punitive punishment like incarceration has traditionally been a common response to juvenile offences, but there is a growing recognition that harsh penalties may not yield the desired outcomes,” said Zalmizy, a senior lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia’s School of Applied Psychology, Social Work and Policy.

“Instead, punitive measures, particularly when applied excessively, can contribute to a cycle of criminal behaviour.”

An effective alternative, he said, included community-based programmes that involve counselling, mentorship, and skill-building.

“These programmes allow juvenile offenders to remain connected to their communities while receiving the support they need to make positive changes,” he said.

Zalmizy also proposed restorative justice practices that hold juveniles accountable for their actions but also allow them to understand the impact on others and take steps towards making amends.

“Education and skill development programmes within the juvenile justice system are also essential components of effective alternative sentencing.

“By addressing educational gaps and providing vocational training, we can give juvenile offenders the tools they need to break free from cycles of criminal behaviour,” he said.

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Juvenile , Children , Conflict , Prison


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