Evidence of Child Witness Act amendments to benefit children

PETALING JAYA: The amendments to the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 will be helpful for children, who often come under pressure or feel scared of going to court, says Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri.

The Women, Family and Community Development Minister said the amendments are being made to make it easier for children to undergo the legal process, especially when they need to give evidence and the child may feel intimidated by the investigation.

“We have to improve our laws by looking into what is needed on getting children to be involved in the court process, who are giving evidence, so that they understand what is being done to help them and the investigation,” she said in response to the amendments that was tabled in Dewan Rakyat this week.

Consultant paediatrician and child disability activist Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS said that revising the Evidence of Child Witness Act is essential to safeguard the welfare of child witnesses in legal proceedings.

He said the updates to the legislation are aligned with international norms and practices grounded in evidence-based practices.

“Such changes will ensure that the judiciary can consider the most reliable and complete evidence provided by children.

“I have no doubt as to the competency of children. From my experience, children as young as four to five years understand and can comprehensively provide a description of child abuse and other serious situations that have happened to them.

“By the age of eight, I find that almost all children understand serious issues like dying and they can give detailed accounts of abuse they have experienced," he added.

"Only children with serious intellectual disabilities and those with psychiatric disorders or impaired thinking will need to have their competency assessed,” he said.

Dr Amar Singh said from his experience, children are more likely to tell the truth and less likely to have devious explanation compared to adults.

He said by the age of four to five, children are able to distinguish between fact and fiction while not being prone to fantasy about sexual activities or acts.

However, he said children are susceptible to the negative effects of questioning by adults who are not competent or skilled.

He added the competence and credibility of a young child's testimony in court depends on the skills of the interviewing team under conditions which the testimony is elicited

“I fully support the use of pretrial case management to provide directions for how children will give evidence, as it will offer support to children and the court officers involved," he added.

He also thanked Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman for initiating and leading the charge to implement the amendments.

Advocacy group Voice of the Children (VoC) chair Sharmila Sekaran said if the Bill is passed, it will improve the experience of a child witness in court and enables them to give their best evidence for the sake of justice.

“Some of the most crucial amendments in the Bill include the competency of children as witnesses which is now accepted; the elimination of the legal requirement of mandatory corroboration; and the court's use of case management to give direction on how children will be examined.

“Without these amendments, children are treated like 'second class' witnesses. Their evidence may be considered less believable, therefore additional evidence is needed to support what they say.

“With these amendments, a child's evidence will be treated the same as an adult's evidence; and the judge will decide based on the evidence as well as the behaviour and all other evidence of all witnesses,” she said.

On improvements that can be made, Sharmila said those involved in the criminal justice system will require judicial officers and judges to be more proactive in respect of child witnesses.

On Tuesday, {{}} Azalina, who tabled the Bill for the first reading, said it was aimed at enhancing provisions for child witness testimony.

The Bill states that a child witness over the age of twelve, with sufficient understanding, shall testify under oath and comprehend the duty of truthfulness in proceedings.

The court is granted the authority to assess the competency of a child witness before and during their testimony.

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Child Witness Act , Nancy Shukri


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