Malaysia's new child sexual crimes court resolves 14 cases in first month

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's new special court for child sexual crimes has resolved 14 cases since its opening a month ago, Chief Justice Md Raus Sharif said on Saturday (Aug 5) according to The Star.

Eight of the 14 cases were filed last year, the judge was quoted as saying at a press conference, adding that only three cases from 2016 were left.

The new special court was set up under a law passed in April to deal with child sexual abuse cases more quickly, in the wake of a spate of heinous sexual crimes against children making headlines in the country.

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.

The Sexual Offences Against Children (SOAC) Act 2017, which obtained Royal Assent on July 3 and was gazetted on July 7, came into effect on July 10.

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.

Located at the Palace of Justice, the new court is presided over by a senior Sessions Court judge with 25 years of experience, and hears cases from Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya involving underaged victims.

A total of 62 cases have been filed under the court.

Md Raus said that he will visit Sabah in the coming week to oversee the formation of the special court, which is scheduled to be launched on March 1, 2018.

"We are in discussions on having another court in Johor Baru, Penang and maybe in Ipoh. It would depend on the number of cases," he said at the press conference.

He said a formalised Standard Operating Procedure will be drawn up soon to handle cases of sexual offences against children.

"We will formalise the SOP and it will be headed by the judiciary. We are discussing it with all the stakeholders, such as the police and social welfare department," said Md Raus.

Most complaints of child sexual abuse in Malaysia did 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.