PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia launched on Thursday (June 22) a special criminal court which will handle cases involving sexual crimes against children, in what Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said is the first of its kind in South-east Asia.
"This court is the first of its kind, not only in Malaysia but also in South-East Asia," Najib said as he inaugurated the court, reported The Star.
Located at the Palace of Justice, the new court will be presided over by a senior Sessions Court judge with 25 years of experience, and will hear cases from Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya involving underaged victims.
It is expected to hear its first case on July 4, The Star said.
"We will expand this special court gradually to all 13 states in the country," Najib was quoted as saying at the launch.
Sexual crimes against children have made headlines in the country in recent years.
In the most notorious case, Briton Richard Huckle lived for over a year in a row of rundown longhouses near an affluent Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood where he preyed on at least 23 children from poor Malaysian families.
His horrendous crimes were exposed only after he was arrested in London in December 2014.
But most complaints of child sexual abuse in Malaysia do not lead to successful prosecutions, largely due to weaknesses in the criminal justice system, Reuters reported last year.
Only 140 of the 12,987 cases of child sexual abuse reported to police between 2012 and July 2016 resulted in convictions.
The authorities are seeking to crackdown on such abuse, with the Malaysian parliament passing a law on sexual offences against children in April.
It criminalises "grooming" - touching and befriending children as a prelude to sexual abuse - and spells out penalties for making and possessing pornography involving those under 18.
The maximum penalty under the law is a jail term of up to 30 years and six strokes of the whip for making, possessing or distributing child pornography.
The new special court is set up under the new law to deal with child sexual abuse cases more quickly.