Stop putting kids in jail, says child rights activist

Sharmila-Sekaran-kid-jailPETALING JAYA: A child rights’ activist and lawyer said that Malaysia should move away from imposing jail sentences to child offenders as it does not reduce the chances of them repeating the offence.

Voice of Children executive director Sharmila Sekaran said that she does not agree with the courts handing down a prison sentence to children who commit terrorism-related crimes that were deemed serious to the country’s security.

“When in custody, the children are not given proper rehabilitation and their needs are not addressed.

“If they are not given rehabilitation, there is a high chance of them committing the crime again in the future,” she told FMT, adding that the government should create a support system that involves all relevant stakeholders to voice out their views, on children involved in terrorism-related crimes.

Sharmila’s comments came after the Kota Kinabalu High Court sentenced a Filipino teenager to five years in jail yesterday for supporting Abu Sayyaf.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded guilty in November last year to the charge under Section 130J (1)(a) of the Penal Code for posting photos and videos related to the militant group.

Before sentencing, High Court judge Justice Ravinthran Paramaguru said that the offence committed by the boy was a serious one and it was not appropriate to send him to Henry Gurney school, a boarding school for juvenile delinquents.

Previously, human rights group Lawyers for Liberty said children should not be held under preventive laws like the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) and Prevention of Crime Act (Poca).

Another lawyer Faizal Abd Rahman said that putting children in prison deprived them of getting any formal education.

“Terrorism offences are different from other criminal offences. The authorities should focus on rehabilitation rather than punishing them.

“They committed the terrorism offence because they are attracted to the ideology. You just need to ‘correct’ their mindset and tell them it is wrong,” he said.

Faizal also questioned how the home ministry conducted rehabilitation programmes for those convicted of terrorism-related crimes, saying the current programmes are not effective in “curing’ convicts.

Meanwhile, Suriana Welfare Society executive director Scott Wong said that children may be subjected to trauma if they are placed in prison with other convicts.

“We had ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child over 20 years ago, which state that children’s welfare should be given the best consideration.

“Now we are putting them in jail. So this is not taking the best consideration of the child at heart,” he said, adding children must not be in prison.

Sharmila also said the courts should play a role in the children’s welfare before passing their sentence.

“A lot of the children are not aware why they are taken to court. This is when the court should ask them questions on it before deciding to sentence them,” she said, adding that a jail sentence should always be the last choice.

When contacted, the boy’s lawyer Nazim Maduarin said that he had not received any instructions from the family to appeal to reduce his sentence.

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