THE recent outcomes of two statutory rape trials call for urgent discussion on the state of our societal values and standards.
Let’s be clear that the cases had been ruled upon by eminent judges, and we respect their rulings.
All was done with legal provisions, and we appreciate the judiciary for handling the cases in a professional manner.
However, we still believe that the country may benefit from a frank and honest discussion on the ramifications of the decisions and what those rulings say about us as a society.
Many feel that the punishments were inadequate.
One of the justifications offered for the light sentences was that the sex was consensual.
We find this reasoning rather problematic because it basically says that a minor (in this case 12 and 13 year-olds) bears legal agency and is mature enough to give this consent.
What is considered mature or immature is highly subjective. Thus, we can establish that ‘maturity’ means different things to different people, and is measured using different standards. So let’s not be judgmental.
However, in approaching some matters that are ambiguous, the law functions as a guide. And for the law to have meaning, its prescriptions must be adhered to in a consistent manner.
Our laws concerning statutory rape are quite clear in establishing what constitutes a minor. A female below 16 years-old is a minor, and the implication is that her consent to sex is void and she has no legal agency to make such a decision (even for herself).
If she contracted venereal diseases, she cannot seek medical care without her parent’s permission. If her agency is not even recognised in the hospital, why should her consent suddenly matter in cases of statutory rape?
The whole point of a provision for statutory rape in our laws is that we don’t recognise sexual consent by a minor. It is about protecting the vulnerable amongst us.
Putting weight on a minor’s consent in sentencing these cases means we recognise that children should bear legal agency on their own crimes.
The implication of recognising this legal agency is that parents and guardians can only exercise minimal control and grant a significant amount of freedom and liberty for their children to make their own decisions at a young age.
Malaysians must ask ourselves whether we want this and are we ready to face the consequences.
If the answer is yes, good luck to us. If the answer is no, then let’s play by the book. It is our choice, ultimately.
The ‘youthfulness’ of the convicted criminals and their hopefully bright future were other considerations that resulted in the light sentences. What constitute being young (as with maturity discussed earlier) is highly subjective.
Thus, in the same light as our discussion on minors, the legal definition of what is considered ‘adult’ must be adhered to.
Males age 18 years and above are legally defined as adults, and must be held responsible as adults should.
If we say that 19 and 21 year-olds are too young to be sent to jail, we must then ask the question: When should we stop protecting people from the consequences of their actions and start letting them learn the importance of responsibility?
Criminals must be given the chance to redeem themselves by bravely facing the consequences of their actions. This includes accepting adequate punishments for the crimes done.
We feel the light sentences passed denied these convicted criminals their chance of redeeming their humanity. Is that fair to them?
We also feel it is rather amusing that hypothetical ‘bright’ futures have an impact in passing sentences. We detect an element of celebrity privilege in the ruling of the bowler’s case.
We feel an alarming message was sent to the public, which basically says celebrity status matter in determining sentences.
Everybody should be considered equally in our courts. The message should have been: It doesn’t matter who you are; flirt with crime, you do time. Frank, but fair.
It was mentioned that ‘public interest’ was a consideration in the decision. We, the public, are interested to know how not jailing these convicted criminals benefit us?
Perhaps it is wise for someone well-versed in law to explain to us the merit of allowing convicted rapists to roam free amongst us. We don’t really see sense here, so please enlighten us.
Was justice served? It is a difficult question to answer. Justice (like maturity and youthfulness) is subjective. It depends on what values we hold dear.
However, we feel that an important criteria to establish whether justice was done is how the injured party’s complaints were addressed.
The family of the girl raped by the electrician expressed dissatisfaction over the ruling. Thus, we hesitate to agree that the victim’s grievances were adequately addressed.
The Deputy Public Prosecutor, acting on behalf of the family had filed an appeal against the light sentence. This is the way forward.
We hope the next judge presiding over this will dignify us with a worthy sentence.
Please consider real public interest and the precedent that will be set by the sentence in carrying out this duty.
We, Malaysians, want to be impressed by the judiciary.
However, the judiciary must first take itself and the role it is to play very seriously.
Although our discussion focused only on the two recent cases, it relates to a more alarming issue in our society.
It alludes to Malaysians accepting lowered standards (in all matters) and being comfortable with it.
Let us stop this rot. Our values and standards should be higher (or at least maintained). Never lowered.
For the sake of the nation, let’s not be politically correct. Let us just be correct.
Malaysians, where do we go from here?
KU ALI Petaling Jaya Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Monday September 3, 2012