Suhakam says the sentences meted out against two statutory rape offenders recently makes it "doubtful" whether the rights and future of victims have been, and will be, protected.
“Whether the rights, protection and best interests, not to mention the future, of our minors have been and will be upheld and safeguarded in cases involving statutory rape is now doubtful in the light of those sentences,” said the human rights commission’s chairman Hasmy Agam.
The two cases Hasmy was commenting on were that of Chuah Guan Jiu, 22, convicted of raping his then 12-year-old girlfriend, twice last year; and national bowler Noor Afizal Azizan, 21, who was convicted of statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 2009.
On Tuesday, Chuah was sentenced to be bound over for three years on a RM25,000 good behaviour bond by the Penang Sessions Court; while the Malacca Sessions Court last year gave a similar sentence for Noor Afizal, for a period of five years. On Aug 8, the Court of Appeal set aside a five-year jail term imposed by the Malacca High Court on Noor Afizal.
The fact that both offenders were young, first time offenders and had a bright future were mitigating factors in both cases. The courts had also considered that the sexual acts were consensual.
There had been public anger over the cases, as many regarded the sentences as a mere slap on the wrist for a serious crime.
Hasmy said that Suhakam was alarmed that the consent of the child victims appeared to be one of the mitigating factors in both cases, though he noted that there had been similar sentences in the past in cases of statutory rape committed by young first offenders.
“That our penal laws recognise that a child may lack the necessary maturity to give real consent or may be unduly influenced into giving apparent consent, is underscored by the legal prohibition against sexual relations with a female child under the age of 16, regardless of consent on her part,” he added.
He said that the vulnerability of a child was also recognised by the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) “which states, inter alia, that the child by reason of his/her physical and mental immaturity needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection.”
“It is also of great concern that the lenient sentences meted out might send the wrong message to would-be offenders, thus would not be an effective deterrence for statutory rape cases,” he argued.
Exposure of identities
Hasmy said that the commission also “views very seriously” the public disclosure of the names of the offenders which might lead to the exposure of the identity of the child victims.
“The best interests of the child in such cases, including the protection of the victim’s identity, her safety and well-being, should have been of paramount concern as enshrined under Articles 19 and 34 of the CRC,” he added.
He said that the government should protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and “take appropriate measures to ensure recovery and integration into society that would enforce the health, self-respect and dignity of the child as provided for by Article 39 of the CRC.”