The Star Says

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Rights of a child must be above all else

WHEN we learn something the hard way, the lesson sticks and we will not likely repeat the mistake. But sometimes, the price to pay is excessive and harsh, and we have to wonder if there are ways to avoid the unpleasant experience.

The life of a child is without doubt an unconscionable price. No matter how much can be gained in hindsight after his tragic death, the family of 11-year-old Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi would rather have him back at their side instead.

But the events cannot be reversed.

Mohamad Thaqif was hospitalised on April 19 following alleged abuse four weeks earlier by an assistant warden at a private religious school in Kota Tinggi, Johor. The boy’s legs had to be amputated due to bacterial infection.

The infection spread to his right arm. It needed to be amputated as well but he died at 2.05pm on Wednesday.

It has been reported that the assistant warden was once in prison for theft. He is under remand until May 3.

While police investigate the case, the supervision of private religious schools is being scrutinised.

According to the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which covers preschool to post-secondary education, there is a wide spectrum of options for Islamic religious education in Malaysia.

The public religious schools comprise federal religious schools, which are under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry; state religious schools, which are under the jurisdiction of state religious authorities; and government-aided religious schools, which are jointly controlled by the ministry and the state religious authorities or the schools’ boards of trustees.

According to the blueprint, there were about 350 private religious schools that accounted for 1% of total primary and secondary enrolment.

The ministry said that because most private religious schools were run as non-profits and were usually founded by individuals, companies or Islamic organisations, they were more affordable than other private schools.

But the blueprint also points out that most of these private religious schools were “small, rural and under-resourced”.

In the blueprint, the ministry discusses plans to maintain quality in religious schools and to enable more students to attend these schools. This applies to public and private schools.

But what is not addressed is how these schools operated and how the interests of the students are protected. In the wake of Mohamad Thaqif’s death, this has become a burning issue, especially for schools that do not come under the Education Ministry’s purview.

The fear is that there is little or no government oversight of such schools.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malaysia ratified in 1995, ought to be the first point of reference.

It calls on governments to ensure “the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision”.

The sad episode in Johor has reminded us that when there are lapses in the regulation of schools, children are vulnerable.

This reminder came at a terrible price. The least that can be done is for the authorities to make changes that are faithful to the spirit of the convention.

Related story:

Cousins not only lost family member, but best friend as well

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