Monday, July 18, 2016

‘Give foreign child beggars access to schools’

Activist James Nayagam says it is part of Malaysia's obligation, after signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to look after the interests of these children.

PETALING JAYA: Children of immigrants and refugees have no choice but to beg for their survival, according to child rights advocate James Nayagam.

“Malaysia has not signed the Refugee Convention so the foreigners cannot work here and their children cannot go to school here,” he told FMT.

“So what do they do? They need to live, and most of them can’t go back to their country of origin. The Rohingyas, for example, can’t go back to Myanmar because of the genocide going on.

“So their parents send them out to beg just so they can survive.”

The 1951 Refugees Convention is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant the asylum.

Nayagam pointed out that it was not the children’s fault that they were here in the first place as they were either unaccompanied minors or had come with their parents.

He added that though Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligates the country to take the best interests of any child into consideration.

“What is in the best interests of any child is education, healthcare and registration in terms of registering their births.

“For these foreign children, we need to allow them to go to school and become useful members of society.”

He added that currently there were 2,000 children in immigration detention centres.

“If the authorities manage to catch these foreign child beggars, then what are they going to do with them? These centres are already overflowing and it is certainly not in the best interests of the children to keep them there.”

When contacted, Klang MP Charles Santiago agreed with Nayagam’s solution for the child beggars.

“Poverty is pushing them to beg. It would be helpful if the government provides financial support through NGOs to provide meals and clothing, including education for children.”

He added that in the long run, adult beggars could be employed as some of them had skills that companies can use.

“We have a choice. Provide skills and make them productive members of society or allow them to continue begging.”

According to a recent report by StarMetro, foreign child beggars have apparently been moving from their regular spots in Klang town to areas in Shah Alam and traffic light junctions at the exit to highways.

Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told FMT that handling these children was not the responsibility of the state governments but agreed that something had to be done to solve the issue.

“We need to take them in and find out their details because for all we know they might be taken advantage of by illegal syndicates and so on,” he said.

He also agreed that it was important to look into the alternative of sending the children to schools.

“Once we know their details, there are several things we can do. Sending them to schools is one of the options because if something is not done for these children soon, then they can grow up to be thieves or terrorists or so on.”