Push for independent children’s body

Azalina (left) and Srividhya

Bill likely to be tabled in October, while NGOs hope for a commission with ‘teeth’

PETALING JAYA: As Malaysia’s marks its 66 years of independence, the country must establish its national integrity by championing the rights of every child, says Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) said the Children’s Commission of Malaysia Bill has been drafted in the hope of being brought to Parliament in its October sitting.

Azalina said the drafting of the Bill followed various engagements with key stakeholders as well as knowledge exchange sessions with child commissioners in different jurisdictions and in-depth research.

“The government is committed to upholding children’s rights and recognises the significance of transparency and an independent oversight body like the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC),” she said in a statement yesterday.

Currently, the OCC is under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) but the government will introduce a Bill on the setting up of the Children’s Commission to separate it from Suhakam in a bid to provide children with better protection.

While looking forward to a “positive outcome”, Azalina said she would continue to engage all stakeholders in ensuring the establishment of an independent OCC to uphold the rights of all children in Malaysia.

She also said she was delighted to have received recommendations for the Children’s Commission Bill from 12 advocates for child rights and civil society organisations in a memorandum they had submitted.

Among the recommendations were that the Children’s Commission must be independent, cover all critical children-related areas and issues, be answerable directly to Parliament, and be given teeth to monitor sustainable and on-the-ground actions in upholding and protecting children’s rights.

The recommendations illustrated how civil society is backing the government’s legislative efforts, aligning with the “all of society” approach, said Azalina.

“Safeguarding children’s protection and wellbeing is a shared duty among Malaysians, extending beyond the government.

“By ensuring the safety of our children, we are safeguarding our nation’s future,” she added.

Consultant paediatrician, child-disability rights activist and National Early Childhood Intervention Council adviser Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS, who is among the 12 signatories of the memo, welcomed the plan to table the Children’s Commission Bill in October.

“We hope the engagement will be an ongoing process that allows child rights advocates and civil society organisations to view and support the development of the Bill.

“This is an area critical to children and its development should involve all of society. We look forward to discussing the draft,” he said when contacted.

Dr Amar-Singh said he hoped the government would set up an independent Children’s Commission that is directly answerable to Parliament.

He said it was vital that Malaysia has a Children’s Commission invested with the authority to advocate for policy changes by all enforcement agencies and local authorities, adding that Malaysia did not need a body that only monitors and makes suggestions.

“We need one with teeth to advocate for sustainable and on-the-ground change that upholds and protects children’s rights in all critical children-related areas,” he added.

CRIB (Child Rights Innovation and Betterment) Foundation co-chairman Srividhya Ganapathy, who is another signatory, said the Children’s Commission would benefit and provide meaningful support to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

“It is supposed to work in tandem with the current system to ensure that things are better. The Commission should not only function as a watchdog but also be able to make recommendations.

“We know that the ministry has welfare officers who are passionate about the protection of children, but it is facing challenges such as budgetary and manpower constraints.

“If we have the Commission, it can make recommendations to the government on how to improve and provide independent reporting,” she said.

Srividhya said Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child but currently, it seems that the full burden of compliance has been placed on the ministry when it is supposed to be a nationwide obligation.

“The Commission can give independent opinions and recommendations to Parliament and act as adviser to the government on children,” she said.

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