Children's rights often misunderstood


By PROF CHIAM HENG KENG

WHENEVER I mention the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and children's rights, the immediate reaction of most parents, teachers and even the public in general is one of apprehension.  

Generally, the misgivings lie in their perceptions that the rights of the child will make youngsters demanding and difficult to control; they will have no respect for parents and authority. 

I had on a few occasions been accused of throwing out Asian values and inciting children to rebel against their parents. I was reminded by them of the massive social problems in the United States which my censurers alleged to be due to giving too many rights to children. 

Unfortunately these people are unaware that only two countries have not signed and ratified the CRC and the United States is one of them. 

More importantly, out of the 54 articles in the CRC, none of them give children the right to disobey their parents or oppose their authority.  

If anything else, Article 18 of the CRC recognises parents' obligation to bring up their children for it says “States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child.”  

Government support mandatory 

In fact it is mandatory for the Government to support parents in this task as part 3 of this Article states that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child-care services and facilities for which they are eligible”. 

If parents, teachers and society care for children’s welfare they should study the CRC carefully. This Convention does not give children freedom to do what they like but it categorically states the obligations of the Government and parents to provide for the child's welfare to ensure that his/her potential is given the opportunity to develop to the fullest. 

Article 32 of CRC provides protection of children from child labour. There are parents and members of society who object to this provision on the grounds that it is quite legitimate for children to help their parents especially those who are petty traders.  

To support their argument, they cite their own experiences or those of others who had helped their parents to sell kuih, for instance, and had not suffered any dire consequences.  

In fact, they have become better people because of the work and responsibilities. Obviously, in these instances, work had not interfered with their education. In many other cases, child labour has affected children's education and health, and in the case of those being used for sex trade, their moral development.  

Before criticising this provision, Article 32 has to be understood. This article states that, “States Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”  

The Article urges the Govern-ment to set minimum age, hours and conditions of employment so that youngsters are not exploited, if they are allowed to work.  

These rules are necessary because young workers are often bullied by their employers on account of their immaturity and need to work.  

Primary education to be compulsory 

In today's world, education is a necessity. Without the ability to read and write, the child's chance of employment is greatly reduced. Hence, Article 28 of CRC requires the Government to make primary education compulsory and free to all.  

Since the Government of Malaysia has signed and ratified the Convention, it has to comply by this regulation. The 1996 Education Act was amended last year and it is now mandatory for the Government to make primary education compulsory and free to all and for parents to send their primary school-age children to school.  

To ensure that poor parents send their children to school the Government has made provisions for financial assistance to the poor. 

The right accorded to children in the CRC that comes closest to  

parents and teachers' fear of children’s unruliness is Article 13 which accords children the freedom of expression.  

 

Although this Article gives children the right to express their views as well as to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds in any form (such as orally, in writing or in art), there are certain restrictions.  

 

In exercising this right, children have to respect the rights or reputations of others, and observe national security, public order, public health and morals. Hence, responsibility comes along with the right. 

 

Those who are able to absorb 

information but are unable to impart it or express viewpoints and ideas are unlikely to be leaders and nation builders.  

Leaders need the ability to give clear instructions, explain ideas and express views.  

Hence, any educational institutions that allow children to exercise this right are doing the nation a great service.  

Besides training children to communicate, the institutions are teaching them responsibilities. 

 

Parents who are concerned with academic achievement only may not like Article 29 which requires States Parties to direct the education of the child to total development, which encompasses his/her personality, talents and mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential.  

Note that personality is mentioned first and nothing is said about academic ability.  

Part 1(c) of this Article requires the Government to direct the education of the child to “The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilization different from his or her own.” 

Article 29 further demonstrates the purpose of teaching children their rights or human rights.  

Teaching children human rights is to provide them with an education that does not confine them to learning merely the 3Rs but to extend their horizon to learn how to be a human being by respecting themselves and others. 

If schools, parents and society include human rights, especially those rights children are entitled to in the CRC, in educating and nurturing them, we may bring up a generation of more caring and competent citizens.  

This is because, besides providing for the survival and protection of children from harm, the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for their development and participation that will enable them to become mature and productive citizens who uphold their dignity as human beings and also that of others. 

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