The arrogance shown by Penang State welfare officers in the whole matter, showing utter contempt for the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, is most deplorable.
Penang State Welfare Services Department director Mustapha Man said he could not understand why there was a hue and cry over the matter as the department handled many similar cases, especially in the North-East district, every month.
He defended his officers asserting that welfare officers have the right to inform the parents after their children had been sent to the correctional home in Batu Gajah.
Out of the six girls detained, three are 20 years old, one is 15, one is 16 and the other 17. One of the 20-year-olds was working in her brother-in-law’s pub. The six girls were treated like common criminals and detained in the lock-up at Teluk Kumbar police station for two nights.
The state welfare officers concerned have clearly committed gross abuse of powers which is compounded by their arrogance which is totally unbecoming of public servants.
Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 provides that "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" may by warrant be ordered to be removed to a "place of refuge", in this case Taman Seri Puteri Girls’ and Women’s Protection Centre in Batu Gajah.
Who in his or her right senses would regard the six girls, one of whom is working as a cashier in her brother-in-law’s karoake, and celebrating a friend’s birthday party, could fall within Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 as being "ill-treated or neglected and exposed to moral danger and to need protection" as to be detained and whisked to a correctional centre in Batu Gajah without parental knowledge or consent?
I am surprised that the Penang State Welfare and Caring Society Committee chairman, Dr. K. Rajapathy could defend such actions, stating that investigations were being done speedily and if there was no case against the girls, they would be released.
On the harsh action taken by the Balik Pulau Welfare Department, Dr. Rajapathy said: "Its normal procedure when welfare officers accompany the police on raids and minors are detained and a magistrate’s court order is obtained pending an inquiry."
What may be normal to Dr. Rajapathy is not normal or acceptable to ordinary Malaysians.
I am surprised that despite the intervention of the Penang Chief Minister, the six girls have not yet been released, and their fate awaits the outcome of an inquiry at the Balik Pulau magistrate’s court.
As the six girls were detained on Saturday, they should have been released latest by Monday or Tuesday - as their detention was clearly illegal and unlawful.
Tsu Koon’s directive to the social welfare department to expedite the inquiry into the case so that the victims could be re-united with their parents as soon as possible is completely meaningless, for there should have been no such inquiry in the first place.
There can be no justification or even mititigation whatsoever in a very clear case of gross abuse of power. The question at issue is not whether the six girls fall under Section 8 of the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 of being "ill-treated or neglected and exposed to moral danger and to need protection", but how the social welfare officers could be allowed to commit such gross abuses of power.
If social welfare officers are allowed to abuse their powers under section 8 of the Act, then no girl under 21 years in Penang could be safe, for a social welfare officer could just detain her under this section and banish her to a correctional centre!
I do not understand why despite the Penang Chief Minister’s intervention, the six girls had not been released sooner, for if necessary, the Penang State Government should have directed the State Legal Adviser to initiate habeas corpus proceedings to seek the immediate release of the six girls.
This is what the DAP would have done if we had been approached.
Minister for National Unity and Social Development, Datin Zaleha Ismail, should publicly apologise to the six teenage-girl victims, their families and the people of Penang for the gross abuse of power by state welfare officers and suspend and transfer them out of the state as punishment and give an assurance that such abuses of power would not recur or be tolerated.