Rights of Children in Malaysia: A new beginning

Prof Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal
02 Jan 2022 07:18am
Children playing in the rain during school holidays at Kampung Kijal, Kemaman, Terengganu on Dec 16, 2021. (Source: Bernama)
Children playing in the rain during school holidays at Kampung Kijal, Kemaman, Terengganu on Dec 16, 2021. (Source: Bernama)

Child’s rights is almost unknown in Malaysia as traditionally children are only seen but not heard.

There was no written evidence that any form of recognition was given to children except right to inherit in accordance with Islamic law.

It is observed that there were some Malay proverb that showed the Malay respects their children and give them a right to express their views.

For example, "kecil jangan disangka anak, besar jangan disangka bapa" which literally translated as "small does not mean that one is a child, and big or older does not mean one is the father”.

This proverb means that even if one is a child, he or she may have the intelligence of an adult and it does not mean that just because one is much bigger and older, that one is the father/leader and he is right.

There was also a legendary story such as “Singapura dilanggar Todak” where a boy, Hang Nadim, aged 10, saved Singapore from being attacked by a sword fish. He was awarded by the King for his bravery and intelligence but he was finally murdered because others were envious of his intelligence and ability.

This story also highlighted the difficulties faced by a child to express his views and to get an adult to believe in him.

It also highlighted the Malay custom that a child is to be seen but not heard. It is considered rude to listen to adults engaged in conversations or to try to participate in such conversations.

When Malaysia signed and ratified United Nation Convention on the Right of the Child in 1995, many thought it was just a good gesture to be part of the global movements.

In fact not many aware of the legal implication of CRC.

After 31 years of CRC many Malaysians still do not understand why children must have a separate rights and require a special commissioner to handle issues relating to children.

On Aug, 23, 2019 the Prime Minister Department announced the appointment of the first Children’s Commissioner of Malaysia, attached to The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia or SUHAKAM.

The appointment was received with a mix feelings amongst Malaysian as many children activists and civil societies as they were expecting a Children Commission and not a Children’s Commissioner attached to Suhakam.

What is CRC?

In the olden days, nobody thought of recognizing a child as having rights as they were seen as objects that belong to a father. In the middle of 19th century, the idea of giving special protection to children appeared in France, where law to protect children at their workplace were passed in 1841.

Since 1881, French law started to give children right to be educated.

At the beginning of 20th century, protection of children in relation to medical, social and judicial were put in place in France and spreads across Europe.

The League of Nations adopts the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child, drafted by Eglantyne Jebb, founder of the Save the Children Fund in 1924.

The Declaration articulates that all people owe children the right to development; special help in times of need; priority for relief; economic freedom and protection from exploitation; and an upbringing that instils social consciousness and duty.

The United Nations General Assembly establishes the International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, in 1946 with an emphasis on children throughout the world.

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where in Article 25 it gave mothers and children to ‘special care and assistance’ and ‘social protection.

Later in 1973, the United Nations General Assembly declares 1979 as the International Year of the Child, in which UNICEF plays a leading role.

Finally, on Nov 20, 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) as part of Resolution 44/25.

The Convention was widely acclaimed as a landmark achievement for human rights, recognizing the roles of children as social, economic, political, civil and cultural actors.

The Convention guarantees and sets minimum standards for protecting the rights of children in all capacities.3 The Convention is the most widely ratified international instrument with 196 States. United States is the only nation state that has signed CRC but has not ratified it.

CRC consists of 54 articles and defines a child as a person below the age of 18. It has four main or core principles namely:

  1. Right not to be discriminated
  2. Rights to life, survival and development
  3. Rights to the best interest principles as a priority
  4. Rights to participation.

These four core principles are very important.

Children are children no matter who they are and are entitled to the basic rights such as food, place to live, education, health care and services.

They must not be treated differently or with biasness.

Children should not be discriminated based on race, colour of your skin, religion or gender.

In order to survive, children must be given protection from harm as well as being safe and be given adequate food and shelter.

They must be able to have access to education and to educate themselves to their highest level. They must be given vaccination to protect them from communicable diseases as well as being given medical care.

In whatever decision that needs to be made on a child, the best interest principles must be applied as a priority.

Many who are in a position to make decisions on law and policy on children must make sure that it was made in the best interest of children and not their parents, guardians or government.

Children has a right to be consulted and voice their views when a policy or law is to be established.

Children must not only be seen but they must also be heard.

Children are not dolls or toys or property of anyone. They are gifts from Allah to us parents and as parents we have the responsibilities to make sure that children are safe, happy and their voices are heard.

Related Articles:

Professor Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal is the Children's Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and law lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. She is also Sinar Daily's columnist.

More Like This