Caning in Malaysia

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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".[1]

Judicial caning[edit]


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[edit]

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 youthful 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.

The following groups of people shall not be caned:[3]

  • Women
  • Men above the age of 50, except those convicted of rape[4]
  • Men sentenced to death

Boys aged 10–18 may be sentenced up to ten strokes with a light cane.[5]

Caning officers[edit]

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[edit]

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 1.09m long and 1.25cm thick.[9]

Administration procedure[edit]

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]

Caning is conducted in an isolated area (usually an open yard) in the prison, out of view of the public and other prisoners.

The offender is only notified on the day his sentence is to be carried out. He is ordered to strip completely naked and may be given an apron-like garment to wear and cover his genitals. He is then inspected by a medical officer.[8][11] If he is certified medically fit, he is isolated in a holding area along with other prisoners who are going to be caned on the same day. He is only escorted to the courtyard when it is his turn to be punished.

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.

The offender is led to the A-shaped wooden frame to be secured to it throughout the duration of the caning. 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 depicted in the picture on the left. A special "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[12][13] and protected from any strokes that land off-target. 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 neck and injures himself.

The caning officer takes up position on the left of the frame and begins by holding the cane with both hands horizontally above his head. Once ready, he releases his left hand's grip and uses his right hand to swing the cane at full force towards the offender's buttocks. To ensure maximum effect, he ensures the tip of the cane comes in contact with the target area and drags it quickly along the skin to break it.[14]

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.

After the caning, the offender is released from the frame and taken to the prison clinic for medical treatment.[15]

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.[16]

Malaysian caning videos[edit]

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.[17][18]

Differences between judicial caning in Malaysia and in Singapore[edit]

  • Juveniles sentenced to caning: In Singapore, only the High Court may order the caning of boys under 16. In Malaysia, local courts may do so.[19]
  • Age limit of 50: In Singapore, men above the age of 50 cannot be sentenced to caning. In Malaysia, however, 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.[20]
  • Terminology: In Singapore, in both legislation and press reports, the term "caning" is used to describe the punishment. 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.[19]
  • 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.[19]
  • Modus operandi: The trestle used in Singapore is not the same as the A-shaped frame used in Malaysia. 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. 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.[19][21]

Prison caning[edit]

The Prison Act allows the officer in charge of a prison (rank of Assistant Commissioner of Prison and above) to impose caning on prisoners who have committed 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 if necessary.[23]

Sharia caning[edit]

Malaysia also has a separate system of sharia courts for Muslims, which can order canings for both 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.[24][25]

Kartika case[edit]

There was also controversy surrounding the caning sentence for Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno.[26] She was sentenced by a religious court in 2009 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, chairman of the Pahang Religious Affairs Committee, said all relevant regulations had been observed.[27]

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.[28] Kartika has said that she would have preferred for the original sentence to have been imposed.[29]

Caning of three women in February 2010[edit]

On 9 February 2010 three Muslim women were caned by order of a Sharia court for fornication, the first time women have ever been caned in Malaysia.[30][31]

The advocacy group Sisters in Islam and the Malaysian Bar Council have both said that these canings violated federal civil laws that prohibit the punishment against females.[32][33]

School caning[edit]

Corporal punishment is lawful in schools but only for boys, and is regulated by the Education Regulations (Student Discipline) 2006. [34]

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.[35][36][37][38] 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. [39]

Government guidelines on school caning[edit]

  • 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.[40]
  • 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.[41]
  • 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 to.[42]


Malaysia has been criticised by human rights groups for its use of judicial caning. A 6 December 2010 Amnesty International report titled A Blow to Humanity 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". The report alleges: "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]

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

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. Those who are caned are tied to a scaffold while wearing only a loincloth and specially trained officers are paid a bonus for each stroke.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c "Judicial Caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei #The History of Caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei". World Corporal Punishment Research. September 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Criminal Procedure Code section 289.
  4. ^ "57 years jail and 12 strokes for raping relative". The Star (Kuala Lumpur). 30 April 2008. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "2008 Human Rights Report: Malaysia". US Department of State. 25 February 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "Judicial Caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei #The Caning Officers". World Corporal Punishment Research. September 2012. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Kent, Jonathan (23 March 2005). "Malaysia's floggers get pay rise". BBC News. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c Yip, Yoke Teng (20 February 2005). "The hand that wields the cane". The Star (Kuala Lumpur). Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Criminal Procedure Code section 287.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Corporal punishment in Malaysia, World Corporal Punishment Research.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Criminal Procedure Code section 291(1).
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c d "Judicial Caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei #Some Differences Between Singapore and Malaysia". World Corporal Punishment Research. September 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "57 years jail and 12 strokes for raping relative". The Star (Kuala Lumpur). 30 April 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "Judicial Caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei #Apparatus Used". World Corporal Punishment Research. September 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  22. ^ Prison Act section 50(3).
  23. ^ Prison Act section 52.
  24. ^ Damis, Aniza (27 June 2005). "The pain is in the shame", New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur).
  25. ^
  26. ^ Looi, Elizabeth (25 July 2009). "Malaysia in heated debate over caning of woman", The Straits Times (Singapore).
  27. ^ "Kartika's sentence put on hold due to 'doubtful' implementation". New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur). 13 November 2009. [dead link]
  28. ^ Ahmed, Saeed (1 April 2010). "Lawyer: Malaysia commutes woman's caning sentence". 
  29. ^ "Kartika says she would rather be caned". The Malaysian Insider. 1 April 2010. 
  30. ^ "Malaysia canes women for adultery", (Qatar). 18 February 2010.
  31. ^ "We deserved punishment", Mail Online (London). 21 February 2010.
  32. ^ Pakiam, Ranjeetha (18 February 2010). "Malaysian Groups Condemn Caning of Women in Shariah Sex Case". (New York). Bloomberg. [dead link]
  33. ^ "Sisters condemns caning of 3 Muslim women (Letter to the Editor)". SinChew (Kuala Lumpur). 18 February 2010. 
  34. ^ Current legality of corporal punishment.
  35. ^ Uda Nagu, Suzieana. "Spare the rod?", New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, 21 March 2004.
  36. ^ Chin, V.K. "Caning of schoolgirls is nothing new", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 4 December 2007.
  37. ^ Lau Lee Sze, "Girls should be caned too but do it right", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 29 November 2007.
  38. ^ Chew, Victor. "Use the cane only as a last resort, teachers", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 26 July 2008.
  39. ^ Unicef Malaysia: Lessons in violence nurture shame and more violence for children.
  40. ^ Sennyah, Patrick (29 July 2007). "Seeking solution to a punishing task". New Sunday Times (Kuala Lumpur).
  41. ^ Malaysia to revive caning in schools.
  42. ^ Caning can still be carried out.
  43. ^ "Canings in Malaysian prisons out of control, says Amnesty International". The Herald Sun (Melbourne). Associated Press. 6 December 2010. 

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