State targets juvenile crime

MALAYSIA. TV footage of children being arrested and handcuffed have prompted a public outcry in Malaysia. The arrests, on suspicion of drug-taking, drug-trafficking and gangsterism, have resulted in high-level discussions between the government and the police to find ways of curbing the rise in juvenile crime.

The prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad supported the arrests and urged Malaysians to face the growing social problems among the young. He argued that juvenile crime should be brought into the open and not simply left for schools to solve. But he was critical of the use of handcuffs and urged the police to use their discretion when taking action against juveniles.

The education minister and the inspector-general of police have together come up with a number of initiatives to address the issue. The most heavily publicised of these was a move to hold parents responsible for the actions of their offspring. Under the Juvenile Courts Act, parents can be fined for their children's misdemeanours. They can also be ordered to pay compensation for damages caused and to post bond guaranteeing their children's behaviour.

Another controversial proposal is to give disciplinary teachers the powers of auxiliary police personnel. This would allow them to arrest children and would give the teachers protection from the law in the event of student reprisals.

Perhaps predictably, responses to the proposals have produced a wide variety of responses from outright condemnation to enthusiastic support. But what seems quite certain is that the government and the education ministry are absolutely serious in their desire to get tough with young offenders and to hold parents responsible for their children's misbehaviour.

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