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    Reforms will empower young victims


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    PETALING JAYA: The new amendments related to child testimonies that were tabled in Parliament yesterday will encourage more young victims to take the witness stand and seek justice, say child advocates.

    Children’s Commissioner to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Dr Farah Nini Dusuki said when a child is assumed to be a competent witness, then the courts will be more open to believing them.

    “There is always a prejudice that children are prone to fantasising and fabrication. But even adults lie when they take oaths at the witness stand, despite being subjected to perjury.

    “That is why it is important to put children on the same footing as adults,” said Farah Nini.

    She said that presently, a testimony of a child will be looked at with doubt and by having the new amendments in place, more cases can be brought to court.

    “We hope more cases will be reported and prosecuted. We also hope the people will have more confidence in the system and more children will be protected,” said Farah Nini.

    On concerns about child witnesses being coached, Farah Nini said this is where a judge plays a crucial role.

    “This is where judges can assure children to keep to what they say. They are still susceptible to cross-examination,” said Farah Nini.

    She said there were many past cases where child witnesses struggled to testify in the courts where the perpetrator was present.

    “We have seen many cases where the child can’t even speak. This has been going on for many years, the rate of successful convictions is very low and the rate of cases discharged not amounting to acquittal is very high.

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    “These amendments are to encourage and not dilute the rights of the accused,” said Farah Nini.

    Child rights activist Datuk Dr Hartini Zainudin said the new amendments will have procedures to ascertain a child’s ability to understand the events they witnessed and their ability to differentiate between truth and falsehood.

    There will also be measures to assess the credibility of child witnesses, as well as protection from improper questioning, where child witnesses are not subjected to misleading, confusing or inappropriate questions that could undermine their testimony or re-traumatising them, said Hartini.

    She also said judges will be empowered with the discretion to determine the competency and credibility of a child, as well as to allow for a tailored approach based on the individual child’s capabilities and the specifics of the case.

    “These amendments, I think, strike a balance between protecting the rights of child witnesses and maintaining the integrity of the judicial system,” she said.

    Hartini, who is also the co-founder of Yayasan Chow Kit, said the biggest issue is still about getting children to report cases to the authorities.

    “So many cases never make it to court, especially if they are under ten years old. I’m frustrated,” added Hartini.

    Meanwhile, in a statement, the Sexual Offences Against Children and Evidence of Child Witnesses (SOAC & ECWA) Advocacy Group said the amendments to the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 will enable the courts to hear the best evidence of the child.

    “We believe that under the standard adversarial criminal justice system, there is a mismatch between children’s capacity and the adult-oriented court environment and procedures.

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    “The contest between a child witness and defence counsel is an inherently unequal one, with child witnesses facing significant disadvantages in court due to their limited language and cognitive development,” it added.

    SOAC and ECWA also said the amendments reflect Putrajaya’s dedication to upholding justice and protecting the rights of the vulnerable.

    “We believe these proposals will further strengthen the Act and enhance its effectiveness in protecting child witnesses,” it added.

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