Zaleha said in Kota Bahru yesterday that there were contradictions in proivisions between one law and another, creating problems for enforcement authorities.
She cited the contradiction in the provisions under the Women and Girls’ Protection Act and the Local Government Act, where under the former, women under 21, if found in places regarded as morally dangerous, will be arrested and taken to court which will decide whether they be released or sent to a rehabilitation home.
She said that the latter law allows girls above 18 years to work at entertainment centres and this poses problems in the enforcement.
The Minister for National Unity and Social Development has missed nub of the controversy, which is not about the so-called contradiction in different laws, but about the gross abuse of power by state welfare officers under section 8(1) of the Women and Girls’ Protection Act 1973 which is 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".
The Seremban case is authority that state welfare officers have no arbitrary right to declare any place, at their whims and fancies, as "morally dangerous" empowering them to detain women and girls below 21, commit them to rehabilitation centres for a few months before seeking a court decision whether there should be released or formally detained for three years.
In the case of Yie Huey Hin, for instance, she was released not because of any contradiction between the Women and Girls’ Protection Act and Local Government Act as she was not employed at the Part Stars Café in Taman Semarak, Nilai at 2.30 a.m. on June 15, when she was in the company of her 21-year-old future husband and his 24-year-old sister. - but because the Act was never intended to apply to her.
Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls’ Protection Act does not make state welfare officers the "morals police" in Malaysia but only to protect girls below 21 years from abuse, whether ill-treatment, neglect or moral danger.
Parliament intended the state welfare officers to work closely with the parents of the underaged girls to protect them from moral danger, and not to work at cross purpose with the parents concerned.
It is not only ironic but tragic that in abusing this section, the state welfare officers had in fact exposed many women and girls to "moral danger", by being thrown into the company of hardcore women and girls in need of "moral protection" at the rehabilitation centres.
One of the biggest questions arising from the Yie Huey Hin case in Seremban is how many women and girls below 21 years are now being detained in the various rehabilitation centres as a result of the abuse of powers by state welfare officers under section (1) of the Act and what action is being taken to get them released immediately, before they suffer "moral danger".
Zaleha should make public the total number of women and girls’ who are presently in detention in the rehabilitation centres under Section (1) of the Women and Girls’ Protection Act, and how many of them have been unlawfully detained like the case of Yie Huey Hin.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development should immediately form a task force to review all cases of detention in the rehabilitation centres and release cases like Yie Huey Hin who have been unlawfully detained by social welfare officers acting as "morals police" when their duty is to protect underaged girls from ill-treatment, neglect or moral danger under Section 8(1) of the Act.