KUCHING: The Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) wants better protection of children from sexual abuse following the acquittal of a man convicted earlier of raping a minor.
Bunya Jalong, 60, walked free on Thursday after the Court of Appeal found his four rape convictions unsound.
He was convicted in 2013 of raping a 15-year-old girl in May, June, July and August 2011 in a hotel in Sibu. The victim became pregnant and gave birth to a child at Sibu Hospital on Feb 5, 2012.
SWWS president Margaret Bedus said society was "shocked and appalled" by the decision, even more so when DNA testing proved that he was the father of the baby.
"Until the written grounds of the decision are publicly available, it is unclear why there has been such an outcome which is counter-intuitive," she said in a statement yesterday.
"Under the definition of sexual abuse in the Child Act, the action of the man, who admitted to a hand job, is clearly an act of sexual abuse.
"Also, under the Penal Code, intercourse with a child under 16 is statutory rape," she added.
Margaret said the acquittal would set a dangerous precedent if left unchallenged.
"Already child rape is under-reported. This verdict, if it is allowed to stand, will make it more difficult to successfully bring (rape) cases to court," she said.
Margaret said the legal system still appeared not to understand the well-researched dynamics surrounding child sexual abuse, including how fear and confusion affected a child's behaviour and testimony.
"And, the inappropriateness of consent when an adult conducted sexual activities with a minor," she said.
She called on all parties concerned with children's welfare to examine the grounds for the acquittal so that lessons could be learnt to prevent a similar outcome.
Among others, she said the Penal Code's definition of rape involving minors could be reviewed to be consistent with the Child Act's definition of sexual abuse.
Under the Act, sexual abuse of a child has occurred if the child has "taken part whether as a participant or an observer in any activity which is sexual in nature" and also covers sexual gratification of third parties.
"Whichever steps are taken, there is an urgent need for action," Margaret said.
"If not our system of child protection will be seriously flawed and Malaysia will not be upholding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which it has signed.
"Remember, there is a young girl out there who has been traumatised by systems oblivious of her needs and rights and by a court ruling which has exempted the man who made her pregnant," she said.
"How many more girls and women will have to endure abuse and violence before we, as a civil society, act?"