PENGERANG: More children’s courts will be set up to handle cases under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (pic).

Azalina, who is in charge of law and institutional reforms in the Cabinet, also said there would be a review of existing laws protecting children’s rights in Malaysia.

The Chief Justice’s Office, she said, had informed her about establishing more children’s courts to handle cases under the Act.

“With more courtrooms to be upgraded soon, I do hope cases under the Act can be resolved in a year,” she said during the opening of the new Pengerang parliamentary service centre at Bandar Penawar here yesterday.

The first dedicated court to deal with sexual offences against children was established in Putrajaya in 2017. Since then, these dedicated courts have been set up in every state in Malay-sia to deal with rising sexual crime cases involving children, which increased by 51.5% in 2021 with 2,832 new cases registered in courts nationwide, from 1,869 in 2020.

The Cabinet, said Azalina, had expressed concern over recent cases involving children, adding that she would be meeting child-based NGOs about crime involving children.

“I see that the Sexual Offences against Children Act must be upgraded and we will focus on making several amendments to strengthen it,” she added.

She said there were technical loopholes that must be rectified, including the extracting of evidence, police investigation, and relationship between victim and family.

“These are some of the elements that we will be looking at, (such as) when the victims will be pressured by their own family to retract the charge if the accused is one of their own, which we do not want to see.

On police investigations, they must be carried out by a female police officer and victims must be accompanied by a family member or a representative when asked about details of the charge, she said.

The government, said Azalina, would soon be appointing a new Children’s Commissioner after she made the proposal before the Cabi-net. The Prime Minister, she added, had agreed to the appointment and would be holding an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the matter.

“The new commissioner will be independent, with the person playing a role in creating awareness about children’s rights, especially legally,” she added.

Azalina, who is also Pengerang MP, said the government would be reviving the project for a new Johor court complex in Iskandar Puteri.

She said there is a need for Johor to have a big court complex similar to those in other states.

“The project, which was mooted by former Johor mentri besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, was supposed to begin after the 14th General Election but Barisan Nasional lost in that election and the construction never seemed to start.

“Funding for the new Johor court complex, which is expected to cost around RM300mil, is still available and I will be discussing it with Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Onn Hafiz,” she added.