Dato’ Yasmeen Shariff
2010 Asia JusticeMakers Fellow, Malaysia
Yasmeen is committed to criminal justice. She was one of the first people outside of government to be aware of the plight of children held in remand in prison in 2000. Thus, she feels that it is her duty to do everything she can to help these children: “I cannot see children who should be running free and playing with other children being locked up behind bars and deprived of parental love and their basic rights.”
Yasmeen Shariff graduated in 1982 from the MARA University of Technology in Shah Alam, Malaysia with a degree in law. She also received a LL.B. (Honours) at the University of Buckingham in 1985. She then received a Masters in Comparative Law from International Islamic University in 1992.
She has been specializing in family law for the last 22 years. Since 1993, she has managed and run a legal firm, where she is also a senior partner. Yasmeen is also the Chairperson of several committees at the Bar Council and the Chairperson of the Task Force on Juveniles held in remand in Prison. She has been able to coordinate and work well with the Government and other juvenile justice stakeholders .
Locating the Problem
Currently, if a juvenile commits an offence, the police will arrest him/her and then charge him/her in court if there is sufficient evidence. Often the family and the social welfare officer are not informed of the arrest until later. At times the remand period is long because families are unable to raise bail. Thus, for a petty offence a juvenile can spend up to 12 months in custody. This disrupts the child’s education, and causes much stress in his/her family.
Yasmeen noted that the key reason accused juveniles are denied their legal rights is that most people are unaware of their rights, particularly juveniles. Additionally, she claimed that the police are not sensitive to the rights of accused persons.Yasmeen’s project aims to confront each of these problems by working on institutional change. Yasmeen seeks to reform the juvenile justice system in Malaysia by introducing alternatives to keeping accused juveniles in custody. These alternatives include mediation, family conferencing and community service. She would like to work with the government to promote these alternative methods, starting in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. Yasmeen has a lot of experience in this field, serving on several councils on child protection, and as an advisory member to the Women’s Ministry. She also has experience working with juveniles at prisons and detention centers.