SAWO, we believe, is the first in Sabah to hold a watching brief in criminal prosecution of gender-based violence, namely rape and other sexual assaults committed against women/children as well as in the first cases of human trafficking prosecuted in Sabah.
This, we started in 2006 under our Legal Support Services for Women and Children in Sabah with funding support from the German Committee of Women’s World Day of Prayer.
What is Watching Brief?
In our case, SAWO and other NGOs/groups working for empowerment of women and children, appoint an Advocate as Counsel to hold a watching brief for them with leave of the Presiding Judge in criminal cases of rape and other sexual crimes committed against women/children on the ground of public interest.
Why Watch Brief?
Our primary focus, over the years, has been to look out for the rights and interest of the children (girls) survivor of sexual crimes.
This is because Every child by reason of his/her vulnerability i.e. physical, mental and emotional immaturity is entitled to special safeguards, care, assistance and protection (including legal protection) from all forms of exploitation and harm in all circumstances. This is our fundamental duty recognized in the preamble of the Child Act 2001 (Act 611) ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
According to police statistics, Sabah is one of the States with the highest recorded cases of statutory rape and incest perpetrated against young under-aged girls not counting those children who have been and are still suffering from repeated sexual crimes in agony and silence. Alarmingly, these figures are on the rise each year.
SAWO is indeed very privileged to have been allowed to hold watching brief along with all the other hard working dedicated NGOs/groups because our collective presence and stance in the criminal court, puts the focus on the rights and interest of the child complainant who is in need of special protection and treatment in the criminal justice system. This highlights and engages public conversation on the tragic plight and extent of sexual violence and manipulation perpetrated against underage children in our country.
How to Hold Watching Brief?
Counsel attends the criminal trial to watch that the criminal justice process is carried out fairly to bring about just outcome, to observe, note and act on any point that may arise to protect the rights and interests of the child complainant during the proceedings. Any inadequacies of the process and system observed by counsel are fed back to our NGO clients who can then take the appropriate action to press the authorities concerned for improvements or changes.
We strive to establish good rapport and work closely with the DPP to provide the necessary support and assistance to the prosecution team and also with the media and other relevant child institutions to protect/promote the rights and interest of the child complainant.
Though we have no voice in Court, we are there to support the family and to express our stand in solidarity with the child complainant who has the courage to testify in person and “relive” her traumatic experience in a strange formal court environment subjected to the criminal justice system.
Our very presence in Court is a public protest and denunciation of sexual crimes against children as abhorrent and totally unacceptable. We are advocating it is a crime against our humanity. It is in the public interest that the Presiding Court imposes a deterrent punishment on convicted rapists of statutory rape as mandated by the provisions of the Penal Code.