Hazmi Majid, 36, was charged at the magistrate’s court yesterday with the murder of 11-month-old Nur Muarzara Ulfa Muhammad Zainal.

WHEN Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong announced that the government will abolish the death penalty, a pledge contained in their election manifesto, the proponents of the move — civil society, human rights activists, lawyers, political leaders, and individuals — rejoiced.

News of the move had occupied the pages of major newspapers and news portals for days. Then came the shocking news of an 11-month-old baby who died due to alleged rape, sodomy and abuse. All hell broke loose on social media.

Yesterday, a 36-year-old man was charged at the magistrate’s court with the murder of Nur Muarzara Ulfa Muhammad Zainal. No plea was recorded from the accused, Hazmi Majid. The charge comes under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries the death penalty, upon conviction.

This is not the first of such heinous crimes to befall our children. Remember Adam Rayqal Mohd Sufi Naeif who was found stuffed inside a refrigerator? Or, Naufal Amsyar Nabil Fikri, the 10-month-old toddler who died due to alleged abuse and a fractured skull? These heinous crimes happened in a period of just one month — July this year.

And in September, there was another report of an 11-month-old baby who was abused by a senior citizen. The accused only received a 12-year prison sentence and two strokes of the rotan after he pleaded guilty.

If you do remember the cases, would you feel the same about abolishing the death penalty if any of the above were a member of your family?

The inconvenient truth is that child abuse cases are on the rise in the country. In almost all cases, the natural response to these monstrosities are anger, followed by the frustration of asking, “What are our authorities doing?”

The amendments made to the Child Act 2001 in 2016 were supposed to turn the act into a comprehensive law that protects our children from any sort of violence and negligence. In 2017, the Sexual Offences Against Children Act was drafted. And yet, someone who sexually abused an infant only gets away with 12 years and two strokes of the cane. Where is the justice in that?

The cases mentioned above are but a few of the many reported cases, but there are many other cases that have gone unreported. It begs the question: do we have stringent laws to tackle this increasing monstrosity against our children?

What we currently have are the following: Up to 30 years and six strokes of the rotan for making, possessing or distributing child pornography; a maximum of 20 years and whipping for physical sexual acts; 10 years, RM2,000 fine, or both, for sexual grooming; and a laughable RM5,000 fine for withholding information on sexual offences.

If any of your children or family member were subjects of the above crimes, would you be okay with the sentences and fines stipulated? More often than not, the sentences given to the abusers do not reflect the atrocity of their crimes and rarely are the public satisfied with the conviction.

Fines and caning simply do not cut it anymore. Some countries have introduced (or are already practising) life sentences for child abuse cases, while others are handing out the death penalty for the murder of a child. For instance, the Turkish government is considering chemical castration for child abusers.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has said that the Women and Family Development Ministry had discussions with the Attorney-General’s Chambers about tightening laws relating to child welfare and abuse to ensure that past cases will not recur. But there have been no updates to this discussion.

When it comes to child abuse cases, holding discussions is just not enough. We need tough action and not incessant talk about abolishing the death penalty or the ratification of UN conventions. We need to prioritise the issues at hand and have meaningful and lasting solutions to address them.

What some death penalty activists either don’t know or choose to omit is that there are two types of deterrence when handling sentences — general deterrence and specific deterrence. Specific deterrence is tailored to the individual who committed a crime; general deterrence is intended to make the public at large, and would-be criminals, think twice about breaking the law.

The arguments are mostly centred around general deterrence, but specific deterrence has largely been overlooked. Such omission makes people question the motive of these anti-death proponents.

I’m glad that some of our government leaders and the majority of the general populace are imploring the government to conduct more studies before deciding yet on another blanket policy just to appeal to a certain few.

It is our responsibility as a nation to safeguard the young and vulnerable, to prevent anything undesirable from happening to them.

We should do whatever it takes to protect our children, who are the assets and future of the country, even if it requires making an exception to the plan to abolish the death penalty.

ivan.omar@theiomovement.com; Twitter @ckliio9

The writer heads Brand Strategy at The In/Out Movement, an ensemble of thinkers, creatives and perfectionists who believe in doing the right things right