Dato’ Yasmeen Shariff
2010 Asia JusticeMakers Fellow, Malaysia
“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 is committed to criminal justice and 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:
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.
Ms. Shariff 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 as well as is the acting 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.
Yasmeen has extensive 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.
Currently, if a juvenile commits an offense, 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 and remand periods can be very long for families unable to raise bail. Thus, for a petty offense, a juvenile can spend up to 12 months in custody disrupting 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 noted 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, seeking 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.