Child protection has always been mooted as a priority for the Malaysian government. After all, Rosmah Mansor once famously reminded everyone, “Children are the nation’s foundation, and the needs of civilisation’s sustainability. They are valuable assets to nation building, helping to realize our vision and to shape the nation’s future growth and progress.”
Every single child regardless of their country of origin has the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse.
However, millions of children suffer from such atrocities every single day. According to the UN, 1.2 million children worldwide are being trafficked and approximately 300,000 children - both boys and girls under the age of 18, are used as child soldiers and forced to provide sexual services in various war torn countries.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 215 million children between the ages of 5-17 are employed in various forms of labor which robs them of their childhood and educational needs; more than half are subjected to extremely harsh working conditions.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are about 19.5 million refugees worldwide and 51 percent are under 18 years old. This is by far the ‘highest figure for child refugees in more than a decade’ and these numbers prove just how vulnerable children really are.
Recently, Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming revealed that among 71,362 detainees currently detained in various immigration centres across Malaysia - 1,918 are children; 813 from Myanmar, 422 from Indonesia, 295 from Philippines, 121 from Cambodia. These numbers are painfully shocking and the government must seriously look into this matter.
The Malaysian government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 which aimed to maintain civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of all children below 18 years old.
Article 2 clearly defines the non-discriminatory practices and applications of which signatories must adhere to. In other words, it shouldn’t matter where the child resides, where they come from, what gender they are or whether they have disabilities, no child should be treated unfairly on any basis.
Article 4 which detail the protection of rights, states that ‘governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.’
Every country that ratifies the convention agrees to review their laws relating to children. The Malaysia Child Act 2001, was partially enacted in order to fulfill Malaysia's obligations under this article, which details the country’s legislation for the protection, care and rehabilitation of children. Upon ratifying the convention, governments are obligated to take all necessary measures to ensure that at least minimum standards are being met.
Vulnerability often associated with age
Vulnerability is often associated with age; therefore, the risks are higher amongst younger children and those from a particular ethnic origin, gender or socio-economic background. Child refugees and unaccompanied migrant children are also at greater risk of being abused and exploited, therefore, Article 22 details the rights of refugee children whose protection, safety and wellbeing must be guaranteed - once again, regardless of status, ethnicity and religion.
This is a very important part that ensures protection must be extended even to non-Malaysian children.
The 1,918 detained children need extensive psychological and physical treatment to help them recover from the troubles associated with separation and the traumatic experiences they have experienced. Children need stability in order to develop positive and healthy relationships with those around them.
Unfortunately, the current system does not offer adequate support and the curative treatment these children need. A country that has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child cannot consent to a system that exhibits and perpetuates any practices that violate children’s rights.
Malaysia, being one of these countries, can no longer close an eye and continue to ignore the plight of these children - the government must be stringent when it comes to adhering to the Convention and must be made accountable for tolerating this poor lapse of judgment.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID is DAP Youth Bukit Bendera secretary, DAP Wanita Bukit Bendera political education director and MBPP councillor.