PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysians under 18 years of age may not be able to hit the streets at night past a certain time under a curfew being considered by the government.
The authorities are considering the possibility of setting a time limit for young Malaysians to be out of the house without adult supervision, to shield them from negative activities and influences.
Such a curfew would help prevent them from getting into trouble, particularly when it comes to drugs, the authorities believe.
This was among matters raised and agreed upon at the Cabinet Committee on Eradicating Drugs meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on Thursday (Jan 17).
She said the authorities were seriously considering a curfew for children under 18, as records show that glue sniffing is serious among the young.
Malaysia would not be the first country to introduce a curfew on teenagers and children. Iceland has something similar.
"We are looking at this policy practised by Iceland. This is a model that we can emulate," Datuk Seri Wan Azizah said after chairing the meeting on Thursday.
"It may not be easy to implement but we feel this is necessary and can definitely help prevent young people from being involved in negative activities," she said.
Under Iceland's Child Protection Act, children under 12 may not be outdoors after 8pm unless accompanied by an adult.
Children aged 13 to 16 may not be outdoors after 10pm, unless they are on their way home from a recognised event organised by their school, sports organisation or youth club.
Those who break the curfew are taken to a police station and their parents will have to pick them up there.
However, some have questioned Iceland's law, saying it contravenes United Nations' Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency and also violates the human rights of children.
Most Malaysians are not in favour of imposing such a curfew. In a quick online poll by The Star, many of the nearly 1,400 respondents (49 per cent) opposed the idea.
Posting on The Star Online's Facebook page, Eddie Lai said that any curfew should "be the responsibility of the parents".
Facebook user Jackie Chew said that the authorities should not be overloaded with work, and it is the parents who should be charged if their children are involved in social ills.
Many also suggested more effort be given to education and creating greater awareness, rather than creating arbitrary or restrictive laws.
Some Malaysians also criticised the government as being starved of ideas.
However, 34 per cent of respondents to the poll think the curfew is a good idea, saying it would be a great way to combat social ills.
"Totally agree. Kids have no business loitering around after 10pm," said one Facebook user.
A smaller proportion (17 per cent) think it is a good idea, but warned it would be impossible to implement.
"It is a good curfew law but do we have enough policemen to handle such cases, especially since nowadays crimes and social ills are increasing?" said Vincent Cheong.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Committee on Eradicating Drugs also discussed drawing up a law to prevent, treat and monitor abusers of psychotropic substances, including inhalants such as glue.
Dr Wan Azizah also said that a new law to deal with psychotropic substance abusers is in the pipeline, adding that this is aimed at tackling the use of inhalants and glue sniffing habits among young people.
"This is still at the proposal stage. We have yet to figure out the punitive actions as well as educational elements that we want to have as part of the law.
"But what is for sure is that we need to ensure that our future generation is not addicted to psychotropic products and glue sniffing," she said, adding that while the habit might not look as dangerous as injecting oneself with drugs, the effect of glue sniffing is equally, if not more, dangerous.
The Cabinet Committee meeting also agreed to make it mandatory for the public to seek approval from the authorities to grow ketum.
While the planting of ketum trees is not a crime, doing this on a commercial scale, including picking and processing the leaves, has been an offence under the Poisons Act 1952 (revised in 1989) since 2004.
Ketum is used as a painkiller as well as an energy booster, but its abuse can lead to addiction.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin recently said the growing of ketum should be banned in Malaysia because it has been abused by drug users.
Dr Wan Azizah said to encourage drug addicts to seek treatment, the committee proposed those who "check-in" to rehabilitation centres voluntarily be left out from the offenders' registry.
"We hope this initiative will inspire them to seek help to kick their addiction, and by not registering them as drug offenders, we hope this will lift the stigma to give them a chance to have a new life and assimilate into society," she added.