The Child Rights Coalition of Malaysia (CRCM), organized the programme “Children Before Everything: Time to Act”, where three important ceremonies took place.
These were the launch of the CRCM Website, the Release of the Media Guide on Children and the launch of the 12 Briefing Papers on Children Issues in Malaysia.
Hosted by the Make It Right Movement (MIRM), the event centered around issues faced by children in Malaysia and how to advocate for their rights.
Mariammah Subramaniam from Vanguard for Change, kicked the day off by discussing Policy Briefs on Education: Early Childhood, Health & Child Participation.
She highlighted gaps in the current system as well as possible remedies to the issues raised.
“The environment the child grows and the space given for the child to develop holistically, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally balanced.
“When it comes to children, there are many disparities, inequalities and injustices embedded in the system. We must leave no child behind,” she said.
Make It Right Movement’s Amanda Kong discussed the importance of “Inclusivity for Children with Disabilities in Malaysia”.
She addressed the various challenges and suggested actions to be taken to address obstacles faced by children who are Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
“The PWD Act 2008 and the Regulation 4 Education (Special Education) Regulations 2013 must be repealed. Other legislations that cater for the needs of children PWDs must also be amended,” she said.
There must be alternative access to education for PWDs, she said.
“We must set alternative pathways for divergent learners. We must have a curriculum that is tailored to meet their needs. Schools need to be better. Independent audits must be conducted to improve accessibility of schools,” she said.
Amanda also recommended that there needed to be a mindset change when dealing with issues faced by the PWDs.
“Efforts to address these issues must be classified as rights-based and not charity or welfare. There must always be access to information and effort to strengthen the participation of children with disabilities must be enhanced.
“There must be an active effort to promote self-independence amongst children with disabilities,” she said.
Gill Raja from Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) and Mary Anne K Baltazar, Advocates for Non-discrimination & Access to Knowledge (ANAK) both shared statistics about the challenges faced in Sabah & Sarawak.
“The poverty in Sabah is the highest in the country, while Sarawak is the 3rd poorest state in the country. Sabah also ranks lowest when it comes to the human development index, and with a population of 3.9 million in which 1/3 are non-citizens, there are many issues faced by the people there.
“Access is one of the main issues in Sabah and Sarawak due to the many rural areas. At the state level, 73.5% of Sabahans live less than 5km from clinics but at district level, 31 out of 40 people have lower percentages. Some have to travel more than 9km through rivers and thick jungle to get help,” Gill said.
In Sabah and Sarawak, being stateless and undocumented is no uncommon, she said.
“These places are severely lacking access to basic rights such as healthcare and education. There is also constant harassment and non recognition of Alternative Learning Centres (ALCs).
“There are issues to do with children in poverty and child marriages. Children born in underprivileged communities such as indigenous, low income families are more likely to face poverty in Sabah.
“Child marriage is more likely to happen when access to education is low. On top of that there are many healthcare issues in these places because many non-citizens are unvaccinated because of its high cost.”
Gill highlighted some important recommendations.
“There must be free vaccinations for all children regardless of documentation status. ALCs must be recognised and legislative amendments must be enacted to stop the practice of child marriage by raising the minimum age of marriage to 18.
“Every child must receive an education beyond 12. There must be a reach out to school dropouts by providing user-friendly youth work at community level, developing accessible primary health and social care and to address delays in citizenship application of the stateless.”
Also present at the event was the Co-Secretariat of CRCM and the CEO of MIRM Brian Lariche, SUHAKAM Children’s Commissioner Prof. Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd and UNICEF Malaysia Chief of Child Protection Sarah Norton-Staal. They discussed matters faced by children in light of the pandemic, including domestic violence and the lack of accessibility to education.
Brian made it clear that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) must work together with the government to achieve better results. He also thanked BAC Education Group Chairman Raja Singham for funding MIRM so that the CSR arm could do substantial work and create a real difference in society.