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Caning in Malaysia

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Caning in Malaysia

Caning is used as a form of legal corporal punishment in Malaysia. Judicial caning, ordered as part of a criminal sentence imposed by a civil court on a male criminal, is the most severe form of caning in Malaysia and is always combined with a prison sentence for adult offenders.

A much less severe form of caning can be ordered by Sharia courts (normally spelled Syariah in Malaysia). Unlike judicial caning, Sharia caning may be ordered for women as well as men, but only for Muslims, including non-Malaysians.

Male students may be punished with a light rattan cane in school for committing serious offences.

Malaysia has been criticised by human rights groups for its use of judicial caning, which Amnesty International claims "subjects thousands of people each year to systematic torture and ill-treatment, leaving them with permanent physical and psychological scars".[1]

Judicial caning


Caning, as a form of legally sanctioned corporal punishment for convicted criminals, was first introduced to Malaya (present-day peninsular Malaysia and Singapore) by the British Empire in the 19th century. It was formally codified under the Straits Settlements Penal Code Ordinance IV in 1871.[2]

In that era, offences punishable by caning were similar to those punishable by birching or flogging in England and Wales. They included robbery, aggravated forms of theft, burglary, assault with the intention of sexual abuse, a second or subsequent conviction of rape, a second or subsequent offence relating to prostitution, and living on or trading in prostitution.[2]

The practice of judicial caning was retained as a form of legal penalty after the Federation of Malaya declared independence from Britain in 1957. It is largely a legacy of British colonial rule and has nothing to do with "Islamic justice" even though the majority of the Malaysian population is Muslim.[2]

Legal basis

Sections 286–291 of the Criminal Procedure Code lay down the procedures governing caning, which is referred to as "whipping" in the Code. The procedures include the following:

  • The offender cannot be sentenced to more than 24 strokes of the cane in a single trial. In the case of a juvenile offender, the number of strokes is capped at 10.
  • The rattan cane used shall not be more than half an inch in diameter.
  • In the case of a juvenile offender or a person sentenced to caning for committing relatively less serious offences (e.g. white-collar offences), the caning is inflicted in the way of school discipline using a light rattan cane.
  • Caning is not to be carried out by instalments.
  • A medical officer is required to be present and to certify that the offender is in a fit state of health to undergo the punishment.

Boys aged 10–18 may be sentenced up to ten strokes with a light cane.[3]


The following groups of people shall not be caned:[4]

  • Women
  • Men above the age of 50, except those convicted of rape[5]
  • Men sentenced to death

Caning officers

The criteria for selection of caning officers is very stringent, with maybe only two out of every 30 applicants being chosen. The selected ones undergo special training for the job. In 2005, they were paid 10 ringgit for each stroke as compared to three ringgit previously.[6][7][8]

The cane

Two types of judicial canes: The front row shows the thicker canes while the back row consists of lighter canes.

Two types of rattan canes are used for judicial canings:[8]

  • Thinner cane, used on white-collar criminals who committed offences such as bribery and criminal breach of trust.
  • Thicker cane, used on offenders who committed serious and violent crimes, such as drug trafficking, armed robbery and rape.

The thicker cane is about 1.09m long and 1.25cm (0.492 inches) thick.[9]

Administration procedure

A mannequin tied to an A-shaped frame. Note the "torso shield" that covers the lower back and upper thighs while leaving the buttocks exposed.

The punishment cannot be carried out until after seven days from the date when the offender was sentenced to caning. If the offender made an appeal to an appellate court, the sentence must be confirmed by the court before it can be carried out.[10]

The offender is not told in advance when he will be caned; he is notified only on the day his sentence is to be carried out. He is then inspected by a medical officer, who determines whether or not he is in a fit state of health to undergo the punishment.[8][11] If the medical officer certifies that the offender is not in a fit state of health to be caned, the offender will be sent back to the court for the caning sentence to be remitted or converted to a prison term of up to 24 months, in addition to the original prison term he was sentenced to.[12]

If the medical officer certifies the offender fit, the latter is then confined in a holding area with other prisoners who are going to be caned on the same day. The offender is only escorted to the caning area when it is his turn to be punished. The caning is usually conducted in an open yard surrounded by walls in the prison,[13] out of view of the public and other prisoners. The prison director oversees the caning, along with the medical officer and other prison officers. He reads the terms of punishment to the offender and asks him to confirm the number of strokes he is to receive.

In practice, the offender is required to be completely naked when he receives the caning. However, he may be given a piece of loincloth-like garment or sarong to wear and cover the front of his lower body. After he confirms the number of strokes, he is taken to the A-shaped wooden frame, to which he is secured throughout the duration of the punishment. His front lower body rests against a padded cushion on the frame while his arms are tied above his head and his legs spread apart and secured tightly to the frame, such that he assumes the same position as the mannequin in the picture on the left. A "torso shield" is fastened around his body such that only his buttocks are exposed while his lower back (the vulnerable kidney and lower spine area) and upper thighs (near the genital area) are covered and protected from any strokes that might land off-target.[14][13] A prison officer stands in front of the offender and wraps his hands around the offender's head in case the offender jerks back his head and injures his neck. The caning is administered on the offender's bare buttocks. To ensure maximum effect, the caning officer ensures the tip of the cane comes in contact with the target area and drags it quickly along the skin to break it.[15]

Sanitary procedures are observed as a precaution against HIV transmissions. Each cane is soaked in antiseptic before use to prevent infection. In the case of a HIV-positive subject, the cane used is burnt after the punishment is over. Caning officers also sometimes wear protective smocks, gloves and goggles.

Medical treatment and the effects

A 2010 report by Amnesty International described the severity of judicial caning as follows, "In Malaysian prisons specially trained caning officers tear into victims' bodies with a metre-long cane swung with both hands at high speed. The cane rips into the victim's naked skin, pulps the fatty tissue below, and leaves scars that extend to muscle fibre. The pain is so severe that victims often lose consciousness."[1] In any case, judicial caning usually causes bleeding and leaves permanent scars on the offender's buttocks.[16]

After the caning, the offender is released from the frame and taken to the prison clinic for medical treatment.[17]

Malaysian caning videos

In the mid 2000s, the Malaysian government released three graphic videos featuring several genuine judicial canings, ranging from one stroke to 20 strokes. The canings were filmed in Seremban Prison, not far from Kuala Lumpur.[18][19]

Differences between judicial caning in Malaysia and in Singapore

  • Juveniles sentenced to caning: In Malaysia, local courts may order the caning of boys under 16. In Singapore, only the High Court may do so.[20]
  • Age limit of 50: In Malaysia, the law was amended in 2006 such that convicted rapists above the age of 50 may still be sentenced to caning. In 2008, a 56-year-old man was sentenced to 57 years jail and 12 strokes of the cane for rape. In Singapore, men above the age of 50 cannot be sentenced to caning.[21]
  • Terminology: In Malaysia, the term "caning" is often used informally, while the phrases "strokes of the cane" and "strokes of the rotan" are used interchangeably, but the correct official term is "whipping" in accordance with traditional British legislative terminology. In Singapore, in both legislation and press reports, the term "caning" is used to describe the punishment.[20]
  • Dimensions of the cane: The cane used in Malaysia is marginally smaller than the one used in Singapore but there are no discernible differences when first-person accounts from both countries are compared. In Malaysia, a smaller cane is used for white-collar offenders. There are no reports of any such distinction being made in Singapore.[20]
  • Modus operandi: The A-shaped frame used in Malaysia is not the same as the trestle used in Singapore. In Malaysia, the offender stands upright at the frame with his feet apart, and has a special protective "shield" tied around his lower body to cover the lower back and upper thighs while leaving the buttocks exposed. In Singapore, the offender bends over on the trestle with his feet together, and has protective padding secured around his lower back to protect the kidney and lower spine area from strokes that land off-target.[20][14]

Prison caning

Under Malaysian law, the officer in charge of a prison (holding the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Prison and above) may impose caning on prisoners who commit aggravated prison offences[22] even though they may not have been sentenced to caning earlier in a court of law. The prisoner is given an opportunity to hear the charge and evidence against him and make his defence.[23]

Sharia caning

Malaysia also has a separate system of Sharia courts, which can order canings for Muslim men and women. This kind of caning is rarely implemented, and is quite different from, and much less severe than, judicial caning under Malaysian criminal law. It is intended to be shaming rather than particularly painful. The punishment is carried out in an enclosed area, away from the view of the public. The cane used is smaller as compared to the one used for judicial canings. The offender is fully dressed and receives the punishment on his or her back; men remain standing while receiving the punishment while women are seated. The caning is administered by an officer of the same gender as the recipient. Each stroke is executed with moderate force so as not to break the skin, and the caning officer delivers the punishment with a "limp wrist" and without raising his or her hand. A medical officer is also present throughout the procedure.[15][24]

Kartika case

There was also controversy surrounding the caning sentence for Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a Malaysian hospital worker working in Singapore.[25] She was sentenced in 2009 by a Sharia court to six strokes of the cane and a fine for drinking beer in a hotel bar. Some said Kartika's sentence did not conform to Islamic law, but Mohamad Sahfri, the chairman of the Pahang Religious Affairs Committee, said all relevant regulations had been observed.[26]

On 1 April 2010, one day before the sentence was due to be carried out, the Sultan of Pahang commuted the sentence to three weeks of community service.[27] Kartika said she preferred to have the original sentence imposed.[28]

Caning of three women in February 2010

On 9 February 2010, three Muslim women were caned by order of a Sharia court for adultery, the first time women were caned in Malaysia.[29][30]

The advocacy group Sisters in Islam and the Malaysian Bar Council said these canings violated federal civil laws prohibiting the punishment against women.[31][32]

School caning

Corporal punishment is lawful in schools but only for boys, and is regulated by the Education Regulations (Student Discipline) 2006.[33]

A picture showing the marks left on a student's palm after a caning

However, there are many reported cases suggesting the caning of schoolgirls, on their palms, is a common practice especially in primary school.[34][35][36][37] While serious infringements such as theft, smoking, gangsterism and bullying are among offences punishable by caning, minor transgressions such as incomplete homework have also been dealt with by physical punishment.[38]

Government guidelines on school caning

  • Caning is permitted for boys only
  • In most circumstances the caning can only be conducted by the Headmaster
  • A teacher can only cane when the Headmaster delegates this power to him in writing, and he must be a permanent teacher of the school.
  • The student can only be caned on the buttocks (over clothing) or the palm. He cannot be caned on the bare buttocks.[39]
  • The caning is to be conducted in a confined area.
  • The student's parents will be informed and invited to witness their son's punishment.[40]
  • Caning must only be for a repeated or very serious offence.

Public caning is banned in schools after the Education Regulations (Student Discipline) 2006 came into force. The Malaysian government does not encourage caning for primary school students, but caning is allowed in secondary schools, and may only be administered by the principal or a person to whom he delegates the power.[41]


Malaysia has been criticised by human rights groups for its use of judicial caning. A 2010 report by Amnesty International criticises the increasing use of judicial canings in Malaysia and claims the punishment "subjects thousands of people each year to systematic torture and ill-treatment, leaving them with permanent physical and psychological scars".[1] Amnesty International estimates that some 10,000 people are caned each year, many of them for immigration offences. The charity argues the practice could cause long-term disabilities and trauma and said many of the foreigners sentenced to caning did not get legal representation or understand the charge.[42]

Malaysian officials reject the accusation of torture. The Prison Department states that canings are carefully supervised by prison authorities and attended by doctors.

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^
  4. ^ Criminal Procedure Code section 289.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^
  10. ^ Criminal Procedure Code section 287.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Criminal Procedure Code section 291(1).
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c d
  21. ^
  22. ^ Prison Act section 50(3).
  23. ^ Prison Act section 52.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^

External links

  • "Malaysia caning case sparks debate", Al Jazeera, Qatar, 23 August 2009. Includes video with interview with Kartika.
  • (Malay) "Hukuman Sebat Rotan Dari Segi Perundangan Dan Pelaksanaan". (English: "Caning from an Administrative and Procedural Viewpoint") Prisons Department of Malaysia. Accessed 13 June 2008.
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