Review child justice system, urge experts


PETALING JAYA: A review of the country’s child justice system is necessary to help juvenile offenders reintegrate into society, says Unicef Malaysia child protection specialist Selvi Supramaniam.

While acknowledging that the Child Act offers alternatives to detention, she emphasised the need for clearer restrictions on the use of pre-trial detention and custodial sentences.

“This should also include a review of the use of indefinite detention of children,” she said.

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Referring to a Unicef study titled Diversion Not Detention, Selvi said there is no credible evidence supporting the efficacy of detaining children in improving societal security or reducing criminality.

“Putting them in jail actually increases their chance of re-offending.

“There is evidence to show that alternatives to detention can substantially reduce re-offending,” she said when contacted for her response on the “diversion approach” in rehabilitating children.

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Diversion is part of Malaysia’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

It calls for measures to be put in place to deal with child offenders without resorting to judicial proceedings and provides legal safeguards for them.

The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child, citing Article 40 of the CRC, said diversion should be an integral part of a country’s child justice system.

“Globally, diversion has been proven to be a more effective and efficient way to resolve children’s offending behaviour and to prevent re-offending,” said Selvi.

She added that the detention of a child should only be used as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period.

“Diverting minor, low-risk child offenders before trial reduces court backlogs and allows the resources of prosecutors, courts and probation officers to be better targeted at higher-risk children who need it the most,” said Selvi.

She also said community service can be an effective way for children to be held personally accountable for their wrongdoings.

Litigation lawyer Daljit Singh suggested that children be dealt with using measures that are more lenient and appropriate for their age, particularly when their offence is minor.

“In the United Kingdom, children who commit minor offences are usually handled outside of the court system by the police and local government through a variety of orders and agreements.

“This is to prevent children from becoming entangled with the juvenile justice system too early,” he said.

Other measures in the United Kingdom include community punishments such as a supervision order, community rehabilitation order, fine and conditional discharge.

The effectiveness of alternative measures and diversion was seen in the lower number of first-time entrants into the youth justice system in England, where it was reduced from 75,270 in 2009 to 11,374 in 2019, Daljit said.

Another example he cited was in Finland, where there are “care orders” that include supervised activities to enhance young people’s community skills.

“Instead of youth jails, Finland today has six state-operated and two privately-managed reformatories that provide residential care and education,” he said, noting the low number of young people in detention in that country.

As for repeat offenders, Daljit said this can be addressed through a robust monitoring and evaluation system.

Another way is to establish peer mentoring and support groups where children can connect with the right role models and peers who have successfully navigated similar challenges, he said.

“Family support services play a crucial role, as family issues often serve as primary contributing factors to a child’s misbehaviour.”

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Unicef , Juveniles , Prison , Child Act

   

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