DAILY EXPRESS NEWS
Not life for a life
Kota Kinabalu: While most women and child welfare groups in the State support Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s statement that the death penalty may not be the best solution to curbing rape and incest, some strongly feel that death is the answer to sex crimes.
Shahrizat, however, called for heavier punishment, given the increase in sex crimes perpetrated against children.
“The Ministry views this matter seriously and calls for punishments that are commensurate with the crime,” she had said last Tuesday.
Supporting Shahrizat’s views, President of the Sabah Child Welfare Association Emmanuel Marcus said the death penalty could drive sex crime perpetrators to kill their victims “so that no trace of evidence is left behind which could incriminate them.”
“In my opinion, the culprit must live to face the consequences of his heartless action - heavier penalty such as increased number of caning,” he said.
To serve as a deterrent, he suggested life term for child rapists in the event of death of the young victim.
Under Section 376 of the Penal Code, those convicted of rape can be jailed for a term of not less than five years and not more than 20 years, and shall also be liable to whipping.
The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2001, in which the law relating to incest was amended, provides for a jail term of not less than six years and not more than 20 years, and whipping.
While the Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO) agrees with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim that sex crimes against children is a grave societal problem which must be viewed seriously, and shares his concern to impose a stiffer penalty as a deterrent, the Group is not in favour of the proposal for death penalty for child rapists.
Its Executive Director Winnie Yee said in general, taking a life for a life is not the solution, and evidence of this can be seen around the world today where continuous armed conflicts are taking place.
“Causing death is already covered by the Penal Code. If a rape victim dies, then the perpetrator should be charged under the relevant section of the Code,” she pointed out.
SAWO is of the view that the mandatory punishment for rape as provided for under Section 376 of the Penal Code of not less than five years’ imprisonment ought to be appropriately increased for cases of convicted child rapists to be commensurate with the heinous nature of the crime.
Saying that the death penalty is not a panacea (cure all) for violent crimes, Yee stressed that we should also address other important aspects such as why such crimes occur and raising public awareness on preventive measures.
“We need to adopt a holistic approach and not ‘piecemeal” by focusing on punishment as a deterrent.”
Sharing the views of other concerned non-governmental organisations (NGOs), she expressed concern that the death penalty will deter the reporting of such crimes.
According to Yee, police statistics show that the majority of rapes of children are committed by persons known to and trusted by the victims and their families.
“On this score, SAWO strongly supports the stand and views of Datuk Seri Shahrizat against the death penalty,” she concluded.
Sabah Women’s Advisory Council (MPWS) Chairperson Datuk Noni J. Said advocates the proposed death sentence for child rapists but only in cases which result in the death of the young victim.
Speaking in her personal capacity, she said the gravity of child rape offences must be viewed in the light of potential death of the victim.
“In brutal rape incidents which lead to death, how could we spare the life of the perpetrator?” she asked.
She cited the bizarre case of two-year-old Siti Nurliyana Shamimi Rosdi (believed to have been sexually assaulted and murdered) whose body was found in a river about 500 metres from her parents’ house at Kg Seberang Terus, Kedah on Nov 1 this year.
The girl also had 40 slash wounds all over her body.
Similarly, Noni wants more severe punishment (such as longer-term imprisonment and an increase in the number of strokes of the rotan) to be meted out to child rapists in instances where death does not occur.
She agreed with Dr Rais who earlier said that if stiffer punishment is not handed out by the courts, there will be no end to this abominable crime.
She recalled that recently a Pakistani court sentenced six men to death for the gang rape of a woman even though the incident did not result in death.
Pewasa (Sabah Women’s Association) concurred with Shahrizat who suggested that life sentence and whipping be imposed on rapists and incest offenders, instead of the proposed death sentence.
Its President Datuk Hjh Zahra Ismail said punishment must be adequate and proportional as far as child rape is concerned to reflect the severity of the crime.
“In this respect, we (Pewasa) are in favour of heavier minimum whipping and life imprisonment for the perpetrators which, we believe, will definitely have a deterrent effect on would-be offenders.”
Zahra argued that victims raped by family members would be unwilling to lodge a police report, especially if the errant members are sole breadwinners, if the proposed death penalty becomes law.
“Under the circumstances, dependants in the family would fear losing maintenance or financial support.
However, the family may not hesitate to report the matter to the authorities if punishment is only in the form of jail sentence and whipping.”
Sabah Nurses Association (Sana) President Bibi Florina Abdullah does not support the proposal calling for the death penalty for child rapists.
Her contention is that killing is a form of violence, so sentencing a child rapist to death is tantamount to committing an act of violence.
She said such rapists belong to a “peculiar breed”, who are “not normal” people, and therefore need counselling to cure them of their “sickness”.
“This is to prevent them from repeating the same crime and terrorising society upon their release from jail,” she said.
Bibi emphasised the importance of preventive measures, saying concerned members of the community must not hesitate to refer those with signs of such sexual inclination to psychiatrists for counselling.
“Families in particular should not be ashamed to take such precaution if members manifest such behaviour.”
She also urged women’s organisations, regardless of their aims and objectives, to enlarge their scope of activity to cover preventive measures against rape and incest.
Echoing a similar view, Director of the Baha’I Office for the Advancement of Women (Sabah), Yong Sui Sien, also felt that the death sentence is not an ideal form of punishment for child rapists.
“Obviously, such offenders have ‘problems’ and need counselling from experts. We need to determine the nature of their problems which cause them to commit this heinous crime,” she said.
She also endorsed the call for more severe penalty such as increasing the number of whippings.
Following incidents of death of young rape victims this year, there was an outcry of disgust with public calls for a harsher punishment (including the death sentence).
Last month, Dr Rais clarified that in the proposal to impose the death sentence on child rapists, it was explained that in rape cases where death does not occur, the death penalty does not arise.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m all for the stiffer penalty including the death sentence to be imposed on those committing rape of children, resulting in their death.
Whether it’s accepted by the Cabinet or not remains to be seen,” he was quoted to have said.
Dr Rais will present the working paper on the proposed death penalty to the Cabinet next month.
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