The Seremban High Court declaration vindicated the DAP stand that the week-long detention last month of three 20-year-olds and three underaged girls at the Batu Gajah correctional centre for girls and women for being in a karaoke and pub in Bayan Baru to celebrate the birthday of a friend was a gross abuse of power and therefore illegal and unlawful.
Yesterday Seremban High Court Judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah declared in chambers that the warrant issued to detain Yie Huey Yin was not issued in compliance with Section 8(1) of the Women’s and Girls’ Protection Act 1973.
In her originating summons and affidavit filed at the Seremban High Court on June 26, Yie sought to declare that her detention was unlawful as the defendants had failed to adhere to the provision of the Act by not informing or taking reasonable steps to inform her parents prior to the order or warrant made for her detention.
Yie, who had named Seremban district welfare officer Azizah Alias, the director of the State Welfare Department Abidin Mohamad Zain and the Malaysian Government as the defendants, had also sought to declare that her detention under Section 8(1) of the Act was illegal in that the magistrate’s court had issued a warrant for her detention although there was no explanation or proof to show that she had been tortured or neglected or exposed to any immoral activities. She also sought damages, costs and other reliefs deemed fit by the court.
In issuing the consent judgment, Mohd Noor said both parties had agreed not to pursue the other orders.
In her affidavit, Yie said she was detained during a raid by the State Welfare Department and police at the Part Stars Café in Taman Semarak, Nilai at 2.30 a.m. on June 15.
At that time, she was accompanied by her 21-year-old future husband and his 24-year-old sister, with the consent of her future in-laws.
The Yie Huey Yin case should be an object lesson to all social welfare officers to stop taking the law into their own hands by abusing Section 8(1) of the Women’s and Girls’ Protection Act 1973.
I had expressed my extreme unhappiness at the inability of the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon to expeditiously resolve the issue of the illegal and unlawful detention of the six teenage girls in Penang by state social welfare officers when the parents had turned to him for help.
It had been a failure of responsibility on the Chief Minister’s part that he had not directed the State Legal Adviser to institute legal proceedings to challenge the illegal and unlawful detention of the six teenage girls.
As a result, the three 20-year-olds and three underaged girls who were in a karaoke and pub in Bayan Baru to celebrate the birthday of a friend on June 7, were forced to spend two nights in the lock-up at Teluk Kumbar police station and then sent to the Batu Gajah correctional centre for girls and women without their parental knowledge or consent.
On June 14, five of the girls were released by the Balik Pulau magistrate’s court on RM1,000 bond while a sixth for RM2,000 bond into the protective custody of their parents for a year.
This is most unsatisfactory and unacceptable. The Seremban High Court declaration should remove all doubts that the six girls had been detained illegally and unlawfully, as the social welfare officers had abused their powers when they acted under Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 meant to give protection to "any female person under the age of 21 years whom the Court of a Magistrate believes to have been ill-treated or neglected and exposed to moral danger and to need protection".
None of these six girls could by any stretch of the imagination come within Section 8(1) of the Act, especially as their parents had given permission for them to attend the birthday party at the karaoke lounge in the first instance.
Section 8(1) was meant by Parliament to be a shield of protection for women and girls who are suffering various forms of abuse and an ally of parents to protect their children, but the social welfare officers had turned it into an sword of oppression against both innocent girls and their parents!
Both the Penang Chief Minister and the Penang state welfare officers should make amends for the illegal and unlawful detention of the six teenage girls in Penang, the former for his inability to use the full powers of his office to right injustices and wrongs against the people.
Dr. Koh Tsu Koon should direct the State Legal Adviser to take action to challenge the legality of the magistrate’s warrants for their detention and to quash the bonds imposed for their conditional release.
If the Penang Chief Minister and the State Legal Adviser are not prepared to take these two actions, DAP is prepared to provide legal assistance to challenge the legality of the magistrate’s warrants for the detention of the six teenage girls as well as to quash the bonds imposed for their conditional release.
In the case of the Penang state welfare officers, they should apologise for their abuse of r powers under Section 8(1) of the Women’s and Girls’ Protection Act and give a clear-cut assurance to the people of Penang that they would immediately halt these abuse of powers as otherwise no girl could feel safe in the state as she runs the peril of being detained and sent to a correctional home at the whims and fancies of state welfare officers, without the knowledge or consent of her parents.
I had offered the DAP’s help to assist and advise the Penang State Government to ensure that state welfare officers are not allowed to abuse their powers and misuse the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 to create trouble for girls below 21 years when the law is meant to protect troubled girls as those forced into prostitution by pimps. This offer still stands.
There have been calls for amendment of the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 to stop such abuses of power by welfare officers. I do not think amendment to the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 is the real answer, for I just cannot agree that the case of the six girls in the karaoke lounge to celebrate a girl’s birthday could come within Section 8(1) of the Act at all!
For her part, the Minister for National Unity and Social Welfare, Datin Zaleha Ismail, should convene an emergency national meeting of all the State Social Welfare directors to release from all rehabilitation centres underaged girls who had been wrongfully detained and committed to the centres under Section 8(1) of the Women’s and Girls’ Protection Act 1973.
I call on Datin Zaleha to table a White Paper when Parliament reconvenes on July 14 to give a full report of the number of underaged girls who had been detained in the past two years under Section 8(1) of the Women’s and Girls’ Protection Act 1973, and based on the Seremban High Court declaration, the number who have been illegally and unlawfully detained and what actions she is taking to get them released immediately.
Parents whose children have been illegally and unlawfully detained under Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls’ Protection Act as in the case of Yie Huey Yin and the teenage girls in Penang and are still in the various correctional or rehabilitation homes can contact DAP elected representatives for help.