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Clear Need for Speedy Change to Penal Code

Sarawak Women for Women Society - Press Release - 17 May 2015

Since the shock acquittal of a now 60 year-old man of raping a minor, SWWS is heartened by the call for the reform of the Penal Code by prominent female politicians, professionals in child protection and NGOs.

Prompt reform of the Penal Code is urgently needed to ensure the definition of rape is widened to cover penetration of the vagina by other parts of the body or objects other than the penis. There should never again be space for lawyers to be debating how conception occurs.  

The reform must also ensure that the sound reasoning behind the Child Act 2001 is incorporated into the Penal Code so it is clear to all in the legal profession that this important legislation cannot be ignored. Children must be effectively protected from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation.

In the Court of Public Opinion there is disbelief that a man scientifically proven to be the father of a child conceived by a 14 year-old can be let off totally free while the girl struggles, both emotionally and financially, to care of the baby .

The legal fraternity needs to regain public trust in this area.  SWWS supports YB Fatimah’s call for an early release of the reasoning behind the Appeal Courts decision so the DPP can consider grounds for a review.

We also understand why Datuk Heng, the MCA Wanita Chief, has suggested that the issuing of a detailed statement by the defense lawyer should be referred to the Bar Council’s disciplinary committee.  

SWWS calls on the defense lawyer to refrain from public character assassination of a minor and let the Court of Appeal speak for itself. He talks about addressing an imbalance but forgets the constraints on the DPP to challenge some of his assertions in the press. His assumptions are questionable. 

He brands the girl as a liar for having said she had menses during the pregnancy but seems unaware that some women with complicated pregnancies have episodes of bleeding.  What teenager would know the difference?  Recently the press reported a 23 year-old Canadian woman, who gave birth on a plane, saying she was shocked as she did not realize she was pregnant.  There are many instances of women misreading signs of pregnancy, more so young girls.

He casts aspersions on the family for requesting money from the father of a child born through such circumstances without acknowledging that many would see that as requesting the man to take paternal responsibility. Why should a young girl studying for her SPM be left balancing caring for a child and getting her own future back on track without help from the father of the child? Everyone knows that to seek money through the courts takes time – asking directly is understandable not deliberately criminal.

Deliberations of other lawyers, and  academic discourse,  on why children are slow to share all information consistently is brushed aside and the issue of consent made central , yet for a minor this legal argument should not be permissible.  Legally a minor is deemed not able to give consent.  A review of the Court of Appeal’s decision should consider these points, amongst others. 

Rightly, courts examine evidence, due process and reasonable doubt.  If there is no review the public are being asked to believe the assertion of the accused that conception could only have occurred through a finger introducing the sperm into her, which scientifically has a low probability, and disbelieve the girl due to perceived problems in her testimony, a common occurrence seen in child witnesses.  Only an investigation into the decision will answer the doubts of the concerned public.