Hearing from the mouths of babes

  • Metro News
  • Friday, 13 Dec 2019

Mind-stimulating games are beneficial to children's growth. --- Filepic

PETALING Jaya City Council (MBPJ) has become the first local council in the country to have appointed child councillors.

The 32 young councillors are between the ages of nine and 17.

The move is part of the city’s aim to be recognised as a child-friendly city by Unicef Malaysia.

The appointment ceremony was marked with the signing of memorandum of understanding (MOU) between MBPJ and Unicef, witnessed by Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh.

The MOU signing ceremony took place after the two-day Child-Friendly City Conference 2019 held at Petaling Jaya Civic Hall.

The children

The conference covered six key aspects in which children could play a role.

It comprises cleanliness, bullying, vandalism, child-friendly spaces, child participation and public facilities.

Petaling Jaya child councillors president Allison Low, 16, said she learnt about the needs of children with various disabilities.

“We meet vision and hearing-impaired children. They said they wanted more schools for children like them.

“Children from the People’s Housing Projects (PPR) shared during the conference that their parents were always busy.

“They just want to be able to spend more time with their parents.

“Some told of bullies that they know who behaved as such because they were bored at home.

“They too often get scolded at home, so they go out and bully others, ” said Allison.

Her deputy, Qamil Mirza Abdullah said children’s ideas might sometimes be perceived as “crazy” by adults.

However, he said that with the assistance of adults the ideas could be refined and applied.

“At the conference, some children spoke about how their school toilets were not clean and they agreed that it was a collective effort to ensure the toilets’ cleanliness. Thoughts like this was refreshing to hear, instead of people blaming others all the time, ” he said.

Qamil wished that schools would teach basic sign language to all students.

“If we can have an inclusive society, we will have better understanding.

“If we all learn sign language, we can all communicate with our hearing-impaired friends easily.

“We cannot alienate them just because we cannot communicate with them, ” he added.

Children who attended the conference pen their wishes on a notice board in the event hall.

Among their wishes were for their ideas to be translated into reality, that adults do not undermine children’s opinions, to stop body shaming, enable Orang Asli children to participate in public affairs and for playgrounds to be in tip-top condition at all times.The children also left notes on environment conservation.

They said a tree should be planted for every tree chopped down, to safeguard their future environment.

“Incinerators that are able to convert waste to energy can be introduced in the country, ” they said.

They also requested for more safe spaces for people with social anxieties, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and those who suffer from panic attacks.

There was also a request made by the children to have more qualified counsellors in secondary schools who could better explain about reproductive health.

The children asked for more conferences related to children to be held, to get views from their peers as well as adults on a variety of topics.

On family matters, children want their families to pay more attention to them while they are speaking or expressing their complaints.Most of all, they want family members to stay away from crime.

On the sports front, children do not want to see any racism come into play.

The policy makers

Yeoh said it was encouraging to hear Unicef praising Petaling Jaya mayor Mohd Sayuthi Bakar for being progressive and coming up with the idea of child councillors.

“This is exactly what is needed from the civil service in our country. Leaders with progressive ideas daring to take up new initiatives and challenges, ” she said.

The children council in Petaling Jaya will be able to give ideas for the city budget as well as in the aspect of city planning.

“At ministerial level we have appointed Suhakam (Human Rights Commission) commissioners for children, who report to Parliament. This is to ensure children’s issues involving different ministries would be addressed.“We have set aside grants to ensure there is childcare service at government agencies, focusing first on front-line service providers at fire stations, hospitals, police stations and teachers quarters in rural areas. These front-liners are looking after the public and other people’s children but their own family welfare is overlooked, ” said Yeoh.

She hoped MBPJ would set aside funds to create childcare centres at People’s Housing Project (PPR) flats for the B40 group.

“I understand space is a challenge. But explore various avenues to come up with a solution that will help them, ” she said.

In ensuring safety for children, she said the ministry had a registry of 3,000 offenders who committed sexual crimes against children.

She said kindergarten operators could refer to this registry in screening prospective employees.

She added that the ministry had also embarked on educational videos for children on safe and inappropriate touches and the videos had logged more than 2.7 million views since they were introduced early this year.

Mohd Sayuthi said the children appointed as councillors were selected on a pro-tem basis.

He said they would be given guidance and trained to articulate their thoughts well.

MBPJ has been giving attention to children and youths over the years through programmes such as Projek PJ Kita, I-Play Park and community library.

The organisations

Unicef Malaysia deputy representative Radoslaw Rzehak said he was impressed by the questions asked by the children and that he was optimistic over MBPJ’s initiative.

“Children tell me that they want their voices to be heard and that adults should help to facilitate it.

“To maintain the Unicef child-friendly city status, MBPJ has to show us the progress it has made to make the city more child-friendly.

“It is not simple and it requires commitment, ” he said.

He added that there were no two cities in the world that were alike as every city had its unique characteristics and people.

Countries such as Japan and China have child-friendly cities. Some of these cities focus on good infrastructure while others focus on children’s participation.

Children must be allowed to share their ideas as they will help to influence the direction of a city, said Rzehak.

Childline Malaysia project director Datin PH Wong said the child councillors were appointed after a series of workshops held over the past few months.

The two-day conference was the final engagement with the children.

“The children ran the conference almost entirely on their own. If we leave it to the children, with some adult supervision, and believe in them, they will shine.

“We will continue working with the children and will introduce topics such as the sustainable development goals.

“The young participants will also be introduced to modern ways of conveying a message through video reporting, ” she added.

The child councillors comprise Orang Asli, PPR residents, the disabled and students from both government and private schools.

Wong said they represented all segments of the Petaling jaya community.

Malaysian Institute of Planners president Ihsan Zainal Mokhtar said cities should have good community surveillance for children to have a safe space.

He looks forward to working with the child councillors and to hear their ideas on city planning.

“I am excited to see the children build their own ideal prototype cities. I would like to sit in some of their meetings and watch them plan.

“Ideally, I hope schools will emulate these thinking skills among the children, ” he said.

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