Malaysia’s changing mindset on children’s rights

Kuala Lumpur: When we talk about children’s rights in Malaysia, what comes to mind is the Child Act 2001.

The Child Act 2001 serves to consolidate the Juvenile Court Act 1947, the Women and Young Girls protection Act 1973, and the Child Protection Act 1991,  which were enacted to fulfill Malaysia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF defines children’s rights as  “A ‘child’ is defined as anyone under the age of 18, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Malaysia’s Child Act 2001.

“The CRC states that children everywhere are entitled to basic human rights. These rights are interconnected, and of equal importance since each right are inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity.

Children need to be educated on their rights and be respected as individuals with rights.

Touching on child abuse, UNICEF Child Protection specialist Selvi Supramaniam said that the Child Act 2001 clearly defines all forms of sexual, physical, emotional, and neglect and is clear on the different forms of abuse and what is not tolerated in the legal system.

This was six years after Malaysia signed the United Nations Convention of the Rights of a Child in 1995.

“Malaysia has made a lot of progress since they have signed it (the Convention) however, it still needs strengthening in the structures and services in the child justice system.

“We need to look at the good practices in some areas and learn from other countries how to do it better,” said Selvi when contacted by Astro Awani.

During the ratification of the CRC in 1995, Malaysia put fourth a number of conditions in the form of ‘reservations’ to the provisions of the CRC. These reservations were put in place since there were discrepancies between these CRC articles and some national and Syariah laws.

Selvi added that currently, Malaysia has revised its reservations on the CRC from 12 to 5 Articles, namely- Articles 2, 7, 14, 28(a)(1) and 37.

Touching on the legal aspect of children’s rights in Malaysia, former Malaysian Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan agreed that the country is witnessing a cultural change especially in the standards and norms practised. With a growing urbanisation in Malaysia, more parents would rather talk to their child than use physical or emotional abuse as tools to punish them.

“The standards and norms have changed, a parent will not accept if a teacher lays a hand on their anymore,” said Ragunath.

UNICEF is currently working closely with the Malaysian government, children’s rights NGOs, corporate entities and various communities, to ensure that social workers particularly are able to provide the right services and help to prevent child abuse.

Among UNICEF’s work in changing mid-sets is their work with the corporate sector –  working towards providing child care in the work place and ensuring mothers are able to breastfeed at the work place.