PARLIAMENT | Budget constraints and insufficient training are among the reasons why the law is struggling to take witness statements from children who are alleged victims of sexual offences.
De facto law minister Liew Vui Keong highlighted these issues particularly with regard to the police force's Child Interview Centres (CIC) as well as court facilities for underage victims.
CIC's were established in each state following the formulation of the Evidence of Child Witness Act in 2007. The centres were supposed to have facilities where police could record video statements from children to be used later in court.
"However, existing constraints on providing video recordings is that the CICs are not well maintained which have led to faulty audiovisual recording equipment.
"This is due to budget constraints," he said, adding that thus, the need to provide transcripts as per the law was not fully adhered to.
Liew said this in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday in response to an oral question from Azalina Othman Said (BN-Pengerang) regarding challenges faced by prosecutors and judges in handling cases involving child sexual victims.
Besides faulty video equipment, the minister said that "most (CIC) interviewers were also not trained" to carry out an examination-in-chief (questioning of a witness for evidence) as they primarily asked "leading questions" which were inadmissible in court.
Meanwhile, court facilities for children to testify under the act were also lacking, he said.
"These facilities are not provided because of budget constraints. There is no video link room, dividing screens, anatomical dolls and so on," Liew said.
He added there was also a lack of legal provisions or facilities to aid child witnesses who were "disabled, have speech impediments, deaf-mute, infants and so on".
Other challenges Liew said were family members who did not cooperate with the police especially when the case involved relatives.
He said familial pressure could cause child victims to withdraw their cases even if the cases were ready for trial. There were also out-of-court settlements made without the knowledge of prosecutors involving financial compensation, marriage and others.
At times he said, the child victim also sided with the accused particularly in cases involving romance.
Since 2017, 3,738 new cases of child sexual offences were recorded including 978 cases in 2019 while 1,131 cases have been prosecuted with a conviction.
Liew's remarks came in the wake of outrage over the dismissal of a child sexual abuse case involving a tahfiz student in Perak, merely two months after the Magistrate's Court in Ipoh recognised that an offence had taken place.
Attorney-General Tommy Thomas had denied ordering the case to be dismissed saying that he had sent a letter to the court informing them that the provision used to instate a trial was not applicable.
This was because police had investigated the case and found insufficient evidence, leading them to classify the case as one of "no further action".