Malaysiakini News

Wall of secrecy over sexual offenders defeats purpose of registry

Kasthuri Patto  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS The Star Online reported today a statement by Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed that the delay in the setting up of a national registry of sex offenders was owing to concerns raised by the Attorney-General’s Chambers over the infringement of rights of those on the list.

Ten years ago, the proposal for a sex offenders registry was proposed after the savage, inhuman sexual assault and murder of eight-year-old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin. And two years ago, ministers agreed that a national sex offenders registry must be set up.

After deliberating and discussing and attending countless cabinet meetings and meetings with civil society, I find it poor logic that now, the AG's Chambers is crying "infringement of rights of the sexual offenders on the list" which has now pulled the brakes on setting this much needed registry.

Why does the AG's Chambers raise these concerns now and why have the concerns not been addressed and ironed out? After all, doesn’t the AG's Chambers play a pivotal role in drafting out laws and directing the language of these laws in promoting and protecting human rights, principally in protecting the more vulnerable groups like women and children?

Has the burden of proof been shifted from the Women, Family and Community Development minister and the police to the AG's Chambers now?

If an unofficial sex offenders list is kept by the police but not made public, is it classified under the untouchable Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972? And if yes, what is the reason behind this? Who is the government and the AG trying to protect?

And what of the Child Sexual Crimes Act that is due to be brought to the table in the March Parliamentary sitting? Will it also suffer the brunt of secrecy and confidentiality by the AG's Chambers in lieu of protecting the rights of the offenders?

Misplaced priorities

Last year, I had raised in Parliament why data on sexual crimes, particularly against children had been classified under the Official Secrets Act after a story by Reuters and an admission by assistant commissioner Ong Chin Lan, head of the Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division of the PDRM, that the police “don’t want people to misinterpret and that the government doesn't want to unduly alarm the public about possibly high numbers of child abuse cases”.

I expected more than a defensive and lacklustre response by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Home Ministry on this matter.

I have said before that it is this very censorious attitude and misplaced priorities of “lacing critical information on sexual crimes in secrecy” that encourages the silent breeding of child sexual abusers in the country.

However, the setting up of the national sex offenders registry means nothing if Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's administration continues with its nonchalant attitude apparent in weak laws, low conviction rates, lack of communication and coordination between public and enforcement agencies and severe stigmatisation of victims and offenders.

Sexual abuse cases have not been translating to equal number of convictions, and this public distrust has caused many out there to refrain from reporting abuse cases, seeking help, receiving counselling and also engaging with the authorities to reduce and eradicate this vile act once and for all.

A national sex offenders registry is not going to stop sexual crimes against children or men and women, but it will act as a preventive step in protecting and preserving the most vulnerable from being victims again.

As rightly pointed out by Nariza Hashim, president of Protect and Save the Children Malaysia, “despite the passage of a series of sweeping amendments to the Child Act 2001 in Malaysia last month allowing for the creation of a publicly available registry for those convicted of sexual offences, a lack of clarity between the government agencies working for its implementation puts its effectiveness at risk”.

This clearly means that all agencies, and NGOs must commit to uphold what is true and right, without fear or favour, in the best interests of our children after the sex offenders registry is set up.

The AG and the BN government must rise above themselves to ensure the national sex offenders registry is tabled in the March sitting so that parliamentarians from both sides can vote on this and to align and strengthen all existing laws to increase conviction rates.

The setting up of the national sex offenders' registry means nothing if data and information on sexual crimes against men, women and children are not de-classified from the Official Secrets Act 1972 which protects and shrouds critical information on predators in secrecy.

KASTHURI PATTO is Batu Kawan MP and Wanita DAP publicity secretary.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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