Our sacred duty to protect the children

BASIC human rights in Malaysia have never been very good but in recent years, rights for children have deteriorated further. It is best to illustrate this decay in rights by outlining recent examples.

BASIC human rights in Malaysia have never been very good but in recent years, rights for children have deteriorated further. It is best to illustrate this decay in rights by outlining recent examples.

A 19-year-old adult man sexually abuses (rapes) a 15-year-old girl repeatedly. She becomes pregnant and the crime is discovered by the parents. They seek help from the syariah courts.

Instead of reporting this to the police under the Penal Code as statutory rape or under the Child Act as child sexual abuse, they collude with the parents to marry off this adult rapist to this young girl. Yes, the act may have been consensual but a 19-year-old is an adult and a 15-year-old girl needs our protection, that is why laws have been enacted. We cannot act as we choose and ignore our laws.

Just before the marriage can take place she goes into premature labour. The parents hide her at home until there is no longer any option and then rush her to a government health centre. Unfortunately, as this mother and baby have been denied antenatal healthcare, a perfectly salvageable baby dies.

Instead of being custodians of children, caring for their rights, the parents and authorities have now become complicit in her abuse and the death of this child.

Why have the police not acted in accordance with the law and arrested these individuals? As someone eloquently said, the police are civil servants, sworn to uphold civil law. If we do not follow the legal system, then we can only expect chaos and the further erosion of the rights of the citizen, especially children.

These are not isolated events. The conversion of children is abhorrent. No one has the right to determine the faith or religion of another person. That is an individual, God given freedom of choice.

Conversion is against the most basic of child rights and there is clearly no compulsion in any religion. In addition children should not be denied the right to have access to their parent, unless that parent is abusive. We now have children separated from their parents.

Similar is the compulsion that we see placed on children for the observance of religious activities, to the extent of hitting or caning them. If we want our children to follow our religion or faith, then we had best live it to the full and be an inspiration to them to follow after us, not physically abuse them.

Having worked more than three decades in the health service, I am distressed by the increasing numbers of parents who deny their children their basic healthcare rights.

From failure to immunise them, to poor acceptance of healthcare until their children are terminally ill (for curable conditions), to a failure to care adequately for their chronic health conditions.

The Child Act protects children from the more serious parental healthcare failures, but many doctors and welfare officers fail to support children with the law.

Childhood in Malaysia has become an unattractive time to live. “Farming” your children out to others to care for; tuition when you are four years old in kindergarten; homework up to your eyeballs in school; parental compulsion on children for occupation choices; the lack of meaningful family time because we are so “busy”, etc.

We are in the 25th year of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Children. As Unicef Malaysia says “Twenty-five years ago, the world made a promise to children …. That we would do everything in our power to protect and promote their rights – to survive and thrive, to learn and grow, to make their voices heard and to help them reach their full potential.”

Yes, some of us have made these changes in our children’s lives but many have not, and some have made things worse.

The authorities on the other hand seem to have forgotten our promise to children. A promise signed by our prime minister and affirmed by our elected government. A promise enshrined in our laws, especially the Child Act.

We deny children their rights at our own peril. Our reluctance to hear children’s voices and opinions bodes poorly for us as a society. Children are our treasure, both personal and national. If we continue in this negative path we stand to destroy what we value most.

SOURCE www.thesundaily.my