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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Child Act amendments are welcome

THE Child Act is being amended to increase the penalty for child neglect. The penalty will also be increased for leaving a child (defined as anyone under the age of 18) at home unattended.

It is hard to properly analyse the amendments without seeing the Bill, but I imagine by and large this is a welcome addition to the law. Nobody wants to see children left in a situation where they could get hurt or suffer.

The Women, Family and Com­munity Development Ministry acknowledges that in Malaysia now, it is hard for families to survive with just one income, so often both parents have to work. But they insist the law needs to be there to protect children.

Like I said, no one is saying our children should not be protected but it seems like the issue is being looked at from a very narrow perspective. The fact of the matter is that the cost of living is getting higher and wages are not.

Mothers and fathers work. In fact, according to some, we should be working more than one job.

Childcare is an issue. Why then is there no talk about ensuring proper childcare services? Where are the laws that make it mandatory for work places (both private and public) to provide quality crèches and day care services?

It is one thing to climb onto one’s high horse and criticise parents. It is quite another to think up solutions which could help parents and I don’t see any of that.

While we are on the topic of children, although Malaysia is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we are severely lacking in some areas. One of these is education.

The Constitution does not actually say that our children have a right to education. This is not so bad because in reality, primary education is compulsory for all citizens. International human rights standards only really demand primary education as an absolute right.

However, note that I said citizens have access to primary education. The same cannot be said of children of those who are here because they are refugees, or whose parents are undocumented workers.

The argument that is used is that if we truly provide education for all children who are in this country, then it will encourage so-called illegal immigrants to come here so that their kids will have the benefit of studying in Malaysian schools.

This is an awful argument because I don’t think that will be foremost on people’s minds if they decide to come and work here (documented or otherwise). More importantly, children should not be deprived because of the status of their parents.

It is not their fault if their parents are undocumented or are refugees. Why then should their future be jeopardised for something that is beyond their control?

Family values and the love of children are seen as such wonderful things, especially in a conservative country such as this. But unless real measures are taken to help the family amidst living situations that are getting progressively harder, and until we embrace the idea that all children deserve protection and nurturing regardless of their status, then all that is being provided is mere lip service.

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Child Act amendments are welcome

20 January 2016

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