Malaysia’s Child Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Part 1)

Vivian decided to participate in a Children’s Right Colloquium held by her law school this month. Here, she shares what she learnt.

“Because every child in the world has something in common. Their rights.” — Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Every child has their rights recognised under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly abbreviated as UNCRC or CRC). The CRC defines a human being as ‘child’ so long as he or she is under the age of eighteen (unless an earlier age of majority is recognised by a country’s law), including human beings at the foetal stage.

The CRC is an international human rights treaty. It has been ratified by 194 countries across the globe. The ratification of the CRC obliges states to adopt a different approach from their domestic common law. Prior to this, children were treated as chattels and possessions in the court of law.

Malaysia is one of the 194 countries that have ratified the Convention in 1995, and by this ratification, Malaysia is bound by it. This was Malaysia’s first few steps towards upholding the protection of rights and welfare of children. Through this, the Child Act 2001 was legislated, aiming to protect children in Malaysia.

Source: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/paulcowell/sets/72157608604126014/

Source: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/paulcowell/sets/72157608604126014/

The Child Act 2001 imposes severe punishments for child trafficking, abuse, molestation, neglect, and abandonment. It also mandates the formation of children’s courts.

After the ratifications, changes have been made, and the effects of it protecting the legal interests of children have been far-reaching. For example, incest has been criminalised by the Penal Code (Act 574), while the Domestic Violence Act 1994 (Act 521) protects the child against violence within the family. The number of children dying before the age of five is also reduced, girls’ education is accelerated, and there is an increase in access to education for children living in remote parts of the country. Primary school education was also made compulsory in 2002 to ensure increased school enrolment and completion.

In addition, the Federal Constitution of Malaysia also sets out basic fundamental human rights like liberty of the person (Article 5); prohibition of slavery and forced labour (Article 6); and rights in respect of education (Article 12). These human rights extend also to children.

Therefore it is undeniably seen that children rights are upheld by the laws of our country. At least on paper, that is. Why then, even after ratification and emphasis on children’s rights, are children still being harmed in so many ways and their rights neglected?

In our country, around 20% of the yearly national budget is allocated to education, which is provided free for children through age 17. As recently as 25 June 2010, it was reported that the Permata programme focuses on early childhood education and care for children aged between one and five whose parents earn below RM 1,500 and who live in rural areas.

However, 90% of Tamil school children do not get to attend preschool because of poverty and Permata does not set up kindergartens in Indian neighborhoods, or allow Indian children into these kindergartens. Arising out of this, 42% of standard one pupils in Tamil schools cannot read and write at all because they did not attend kindergarten.

How is this possible after the ratification of the CRC, which had emphasised on the right to education in Article 28(1)?

Allow me to quote the famous and often mention aphorism, “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” Fairness and justice for children in relation to their right to education must not merely only be in writing and documented, but must also be seen to be done. Unfortunately, no action is brought against countries that do not follow international treaties.

Vivian Kuan is a person that never lets anyone tell her she can’t do something. She channels her time and energy only to what she loves in life. Thus, she chose to read law and is currently in her second year. Other than burying her head in law books, she loves to dance, play the piano and write songs. And she never says no to food. She has a heart for people; hence she finds joy in making a difference in the lives of others. She always believes she can do anything, which sometimes gets her into crazy situations, but that belief gets her through. She’s always wanted to be a part of something bigger in life.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where the ambiguity of the Child Act 2001 will be addressed, and discover that Malaysia is not fully adopting the CRC because it is incompatible with Syariah Laws.

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Posted on 15 December 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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