By CHONG LIP TECK
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
A controversy was triggered recently as two men have been bound over on a good behaviour bond for statutory rape. Members of the public accused the courts of not taking into account the need to give maximum attention and protection to the interests of the underage girls.
The underage are the extremely vulnerable group of the society. They are physically and psychologically immature and thus, they need special protection. In particular, the law must become their most powerful protection net. In addition, the authorities can also introduce other provisions to protect them.
For example, many states in the US prohibit those with sexual assault records from entering certain public areas to protect the underage by providing them a safe zone.
The provision takes into account the circumstances allowing adults to get in touch with the underage. If they might face risk in some places, the society should then strengthen the protection in those places.
One of the channels would be social networks. Although Facebook has user age restriction, many who are underage still broke the restriction and became users, spending much time hanging on it.
The European Commission had pointed out this year that social networking sites should grant better privacy protection to the underage and it is particularly important to protect them from sexual harassment.
Other possibilities would be kindergartens, tutoring centres, nurseries and even homes of babysitters. Last week, a kindergarten co-owner, who was earlier found guilty of raping a four-year-old girl, has been acquitted and discharged by a High Court in an appeal decision. Leaving aside the technical problems of the case, the conduct and character of a kindergarten assistant should be stringently viewed as he is someone who always gets contact with children.
Hong Kong introduced the Sexual Conviction Record Check Mechanism last year, allowing employers to check the records of their potential employees who have regular contact with children, including staff of schools, tutoring centres, hospitals, social welfare organisations and school bus drivers.
After lenient sentences were given to the two men found to have committed statutory rape, it was reported that local lawyers and human rights organisations believe that it is necessary to set up similar mechanism. However, they also pointed out that such a mechanism must be carefully operated to avoid violating human rights. Some people with sex assault records might have rehabilitated after getting punished. Such a mechanism could bring prejudice against them and harm their future.
In any case, a similar mechanism is still feasible. In addition to serve as a supervising channel, it can also raise vigilance in law enforcement agencies. However, there must be certain rules and restrictions on what kind of information can be made public and who can access to the information, to avoid triggering another controversy.
All mechanisms have inadequacies but the focus should be on the social perception as a whole. If we insist that some mechanisms and concepts are necessary and important, we should then adhere to them. Therefore, even if our legal system and some mechanisms are not well-functioning, or errors occur due to human operation, it should still be considered as the best development amidst the people's low legal awareness.