‘High time to fully enforce Child Act’

Child abuse

Malaysia has not been able to protect its children from being abused and exploited, says a senior consultant paediatrician.

Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS said recent events and statements by government leaders suggest the Child Act and other legislation like the Sexual Offences Against Children Act are being ignored.

“We seem unable to protect our children from child marriages, sexual predators, errant parents who fail them, religious persons who abuse and victimise them, exploitation/discrimination, and when the system fails them,” said Dr Amar.

“The truth is that the laws are generally fine and can be used but the authorities choose not to use them.”

Dr Amar cited two recent examples involving a nine-year-old from a religious school and a toddler who had bad pneumonia.

“The girl was made to beg for donations alone at a petrol station. When we called the welfare officers, they appeared powerless to intervene. When they do take the child into custody, parents will say they allowed their children to go out and beg and the provisions in the Child Act to protect the child are ignored.

“As for the two-year-old boy, he had serious respiratory infection and required intensive care to save his life. But his father refused to admit the toddler and wanted to see a bomoh instead.

“Sometimes the Welfare Department is responsive but there have been cases where officers from the department allow the parents to have it their way. This despite the Child Act empowering them to act to save the child.”

He said there have been instances where children are physically and sexually abused at home and despite the authorities being notified, no action was taken.

“It’s common for some to suggest that these are isolated incidents. But I can continue with many more examples as the problem is common-place nationwide.

“From abused children not receiving protection to unregistered children homes/schools to overt child marriage. Child rights in Malaysia seem to not exist in the system unless one of us fights for each child that we see,” he added.

He said the Child Act has failed due to several reasons. These include:

  • The primary custodians of children, designated by law as temporary or full protectors, the welfare, medical and police officers, often fail to use the Child Act to protect children.

Some of these officers do not know the Child Act well; others believe that parents have more rights than children even when the law states otherwise. There is also a preference from the police and courts to use other legislation, especially the Penal Code, rather than the Child Act; even though the Child Act has specifically been written to support children.

Perhaps the time has come for us to use the Child Act to take some protectors (welfare, health and police officers) to court and charge them for failing to protect children.

  • The current confusion as to which laws are supreme in our country – civil or religious?

We cannot continue having a split or dichotomous legal system when dealing with children. It is ludicrous that a child is allowed to be married or that religious schools can operate without registration or a proper curriculum or fire safety or oversight. Child safety, protection and rights are not a religious issue but an obligatory need, as children are vulnerable and require society to safeguard their interests.

We cannot allow the basic rights of children to be trampled or ignored so that adults can do with them as they please.

Any government that fails its children is a failed government.

It is vital that the government ensure the Child Act encompasses all actions dealing with children and be the primary legislation in dealing with children in all circumstances.

“It’s been 23 years after Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child but we have still failed to uphold completely its commitment to the protection and welfare of our children.

“It is long overdue that we enforce the Child Act fully to support and protect all children in Malaysia,” he added.

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