Department for Children brings hope

03 Jan 2023 02:23pm
The child advocates and civil society organisations are delighted that children are getting a clear focus from the new government. Photo for illustration purposes only - 123RF
The child advocates and civil society organisations are delighted that children are getting a clear focus from the new government. Photo for illustration purposes only - 123RF

The announcement by Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, Women, Family and Community Development Minister, that the Cabinet had agreed to establish a special department or institution for children brings hope to 2023.

It is good that Pakatan Harapan is living up to its election manifesto.

We, child advocates and civil society organisations, are delighted that children are getting a clear focus from the new government.

We recognise that this is early days, this proposal will need to be worked on, with the scope and powers of the proposed department to be clarified.

We ask that the Minister and Ministry engage with child advocates and civil society organisations in shaping the formation of the proposed Children’s Department.

One key issue will be the extent of the scope and powers of this Department for Children.

Will it be akin to a Children’s Ministry, fully responsible for all children's issues, overarching all other ministries that have some responsibility for children, and with powers to make policy changes?

Or will it just be a coordinating body between different ministries and agencies on children's issues?

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We recommend that the government form a Children’s Ministry so that it will have the real capacity to make significant changes to the lives of ALL children in Malaysia and not just be a ‘welfare’ organisation.

No ministry or government agency should make policies that would impact on children’s wellbeing without timely consultation with any Children’s Department or Ministry that the government creates.

We advocate that the Children Department will adopt an equitable and rights-based approach and have a wide scope to cover critical areas, including the following:

  1. Establish and strengthen an interagency child protection case and data management system, and the prevention of abuse, neglect, exploitation and all forms of violence against children.
  2. Improve basic health service delivery, especially to marginalised children, and prevent deaths from road injuries and drowning.
  3. Support the rights and needs of children with diverse disabilities.
  4. Improve the status of marginalised children, including those who are migrants, refugees and stateless.
  5. End child poverty, especially among our indigenous peoples, and target those in Sabah and in inner city environments.
  6. Encourage good practices in the provision of reasonable accommodation, to mainstream children with special education needs (inclusion) and ensure access to universal education.
  7. Improve the timeliness, quality, access and safety of early childhood care and education (this include nurseries).
  8. Avoid/prevent the detention of any child.
  9. Removing all barriers to children, adopted children of Malaysian parents and foundlings, from acquiring Malaysian citizenship.
  10. Persevere systematically to end child marriage and reduce teenage pregnancies.

This list, although not exhaustive, seems like a tall order.

The Government announcement inspires confidence that, together, we can make a firm start to work in this direction and build success over time.

Leadership and experience of the child realities in Malaysia will be critical to shaping success.

It is important to institutionalise children’s participation in the organisation and have representatives from diverse communities, including those who are marginalised and disabled.

A dedicated, accountable and competent workforce, perhaps some staffing taken from other agencies, and a meaningful budget will be critical to the execution of function. The new entity will have to review and lift Malaysia’s reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and harmonise national legislation and policies with the Child Act and Sexual Offences Against Children Act.

We would like the Minister and Cabinet to know that we, child advocates and civil society organisations, are firmly behind this initiative and offer our full support.

It is the single most important plan that the Government has put forward for the betterment of children in our nation.

May the hope that has come with the new government blossom in 2023 and all children experience meaningful and lasting change that improves their outcomes.

As the CRC embodies, in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Signatories of child advocates and civil society organisations:

1. Datuk Dr. Amar-Singh HSS, Child/Disability Advocate and Advisor Nation Early Childhood Intervention Council

2. Datuk Dr. Hartini Zainudin, Yayasan Chow Kit, Voice of the Children

3. Datin PH Wong, Childline Foundation

4. Yap Sook Yee, Children's Rights and Empowerment Advocate, WeCareJourney and FrienenArts

5. Cathryn Anila, Founder, Vanguards4Change

6. Prof Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal

7. Dr Farah Nini Dusuki, Child Rights Advocate and Practitioner

8. Dr Mary Marret, Dr. Irene Cheah, Child Protection Subcommittee, Malaysian Paediatric Association

9. Anisa Ahmad, Persatuan Pengasuh Berdaftar Malaysia (PPBM )

10. Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng

11. Pertubuhan Kebajikan Vivekananda Rembau Negeri Sembilan

12. Family Frontiers

13. Association of Women Lawyers

14. Make It Right Movement

15. Malaysian Rare Disorders Society

16. Protect and Save the Children

17. Montessori Association Malaysia

18. End CSEC Network Malaysia

19. Malaysian Council of Child Welfare

20. OKU Rights Matter Project

21. Jeannie Low, Play Unlimited

22. Persatuan Guru-Guru Tadika Perak

23. Prof Datin Dr Mariani Md Nor, ECCE Council Malaysia

24. Persatuan Pendidik Awal Kanak2 Pahang

25. Persatuan Tadika Islam Malaysia

26. Eveleen Ling, Persatuan Tadika Malaysia

27. Malaysian Child Resource Institute

28. Ahli Majlis Kanak-Kanak Petaling Jaya

29. Dr Amelia Alias, Child Rights Advocate

30. PUAKPayong - Persatuan Untuk Anak Kita.

31. Home of Peace, Kuala Lumpur

32. NGOhub

33. Dr Raihan Mohamed, Toy Libraries Malaysia

34. Wan Shakila Borneo Komrad

35. Siti Asa, Persatuan TASKA Rumah Msia

36. Sarawak Women for Women Society

37. Wong Hui Min, President, Nation Early Childhood Intervention Council

38. Asia Community Service

39. Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation

40. BOLD for Special Needs Penang

41. Simon Hoo, SPICES Early Intervention Centre

42. Dr Wong Woan Yiing Consultant Paediatrician

43. Association of Professional Early Childhood Educators (MAPECE)

44. Amy Bala, Malaysian Association of Social Workers

45. World Vision Malaysia

46. Reproductive Cadre on Sexuality Education & Queries (RCSEQ)

47. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor

48. Persatuan Guru Tadika Semenanjung

49. Margaret Loy, Community; Transformation Initiative Bhd

50. CbR Network Malaysia

51. Global Shepherds Berhad

52. Be My Protector

53. Anne Sivanathan, Inclusive Outdoor Classroom

54. Wan Shakila Borneo Komrad

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.