Suhakam: An independent body will help enhance rights of minors

PETALING JAYA: An independent Children’s Commission will ensure issues and rights of minors receive undivided focus and full protection, says the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

At present, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) is under Suhakam but the Children’s Commission of Malaysia Bill, which will separate it from Suhakam, is slated to be tabled next month.

Suhakam children’s commissioner Dr Farah Nini Dusuki said there is an urgent need for the establishment of a specialised body responsible for promoting and preserving the rights of the 9.19 million children in Malaysia.

Farah Nini said the Children’s Commission will be the only independent body in the country with the sole aim of preserving the best interest of the child.

“As a human rights watchdog, Suhakam has been tasked with issues and areas that are too wide ranging.

“Children’s issues should not be handled by Suhakam because the attention given does not commensurate with the population of children, who make up almost 30% of the Malaysian population.

“Given the special nature of children themselves, the approach to children’s issues and affected groups should be different compared to adults,” she said when contacted yesterday.

Among the goals of establishing the Children’s Commission as an independent body include enabling it to function as a bridge between the government and the community.

As an independent body, the Commission will communicate with non-governmental bodies regarding the implementation and challenges faced by policymakers to ensure a more effective enforcement.

“The Commission will be able to assist the government in finding solutions for issues concerning children with all stakeholders,” Farah Nini said.

She added that the Commission would also act as the voice of children and empower their participation, especially in decisions and policies that would affect them.

She also said the Commission would function as a knowledge hub and as a watchdog of children’s rights.

“As a partner to all three branches of the government, namely the legislative, judicial and executive, the Commission can provide the real context of children’s issues to all parties based on evidence-based information and research,” Farah Nini said.

With a mandate to receive funds for the purpose of promoting and fostering awareness of children’s rights, the Commission could act to increase awareness of children’s rights at every level of society, she said.

“It will also assist the government in overseeing the private sector and act effectively as guardians of children’s rights in every aspect, especially involving investigations and complaints,” she said.

Suhakam commissioner Prof Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal said the OCC presently is facing challenges and limitations such as lack of manpower and that Suhakam does not have enough hands to handle all the issues.

With an independent Children’s Commission and a Children’s Department set up under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, she said these two would complement each other and enhance protection of children in Malaysia.

“The Commission will be monitoring the work of the Children’s Department and making sure all the issues regarding children are being resolved in a very focused manner,” she said.

Noor Aziah added that the ministry must not see the setting up of the Children’s Commission as taking away their jurisdiction or powers.

“It is to enhance the rights of children. Our main concern is children, how they’re being looked after and how we could empower them.

“The Commission could perform the function of monitoring how policies, laws and action plans regarding children are being implemented,” she said.

When tabling Budget 2023, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that the ministry will establish a Child Development Department under the purview of the Social Welfare Department to provide more comprehensive support services to children.

In August 2019, Noor Aziah was appointed as the first Suhakam children’s commissioner for the 2019-2022 term.

In March this year, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othmad Said announced that the government would introduce a Bill on the setting up of the Children’s Commission as an independent oversight body.

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