Urgent need for an independent Children’s Commission

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Photo for illustration purposes only. — Photo by Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

WE, the undersigned child advocates and civil society organisations for children, urge the government to expeditiously establish an independent Children’s Commission that will promptly act on issues affecting children, as well as safeguard, uphold and promote child rights.

The pandemic has revealed serious and systemic gaps in the care and protection of children; which have yet to be dealt with and resolved. A single Commissioner for Children under Suhakam does not have the necessary time, authority, and resources to effectively address these gaps and guide the government on how to prioritise resource allocations to ensure the well-being of children. The time to act is now; we must stop failing our children.

An independent Children’s Commission, which reports directly to Parliament, will enable all Parliamentarians to have oversight over children in Malaysia. Monitoring their rights and progress is fundamental to the growth and future of our nation and society. Should today’s leaders fail our children, that is a failure of stewardship of the nation’s future leaders, voters, and workforce.

An independent, adequately funded Children’s Commission comprising commissioners with expertise in issues affecting children and staff would be able to support ministries, departments, and agencies by providing their much-needed expertise to strengthen policies, processes, and procedures. Lawmakers, ministers, and civil servants who are subject to transfers cannot be expected to be subject matter experts. A Children’s Commission, with commissioners who have a strong grasp of the realities of diverse groups of children in marginalised circumstances, would be in a position to examine the impact of laws, policies, and procedures on children. The proposed commissioners would also be able to articulate effectively recommendations that align laws, policies, and procedures with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and two of its three Optional Protocols that Malaysia has ratified, as well Malaysian legislation covering child rights.

The Children’s Commission must be comprehensive and have a wide scope to cover all critical children-related areas, including the following (not exhaustive): strengthen child protection; work to end child poverty; improve child health service delivery; advance inclusive education for children with diverse disabilities; improve early childhood care, education, and early intervention services; improve the status of migrants, refugees, and stateless; improve services for children in conflict with the law; prevent the detention of any child; end child marriage, and reduce teenage pregnancies; support indigenous children; remove all barriers to children of Malaysian parents from acquiring citizenship. The Children’s Commission must be able to recognise and remedy violations of children’s rights as they occur, by applying good practices, and human rights standards.

Any delay to the well-being and protection of a single child can have devastating and long-lasting consequences. Thus, any delay in establishing an independent Children’s Commission will have significant and long-lasting consequences for the wellbeing of ALL children in Malaysia.

The Bill to establish a Children’s Commission is a crucial step towards aligning Malaysia with its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We would like the Prime Minister and Cabinet to know that we, child advocates and civil society organisations, are firmly behind this initiative and offer our full support. It is the single most important plan that the government has put forward for the betterment of children in our nation.

Many thanks to the Prime Minister’s Department for being the prime driver of this Bill, and for ensuring meaningful engagement with stakeholders, including civil society.

We extend our blessings as the Cabinet deliberates on this, and pray that an independent Children’s Commission will be supported and proposed to Parliament for consideration. It is our hope that all lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, care enough about Malaysia’s children to unanimously support the passage of the Bill for the establishment of an independent Children’s Commission.

Child Rights Advocates and Civil Society Organisations:

1. Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, consultant paediatrician, child-disability rights activist; National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) advisor

2. Srividhya Ganapathy, co-chairperson CRIB Foundation (Child Rights Innovation & Betterment)

3. Yuenwah San, The OKU Rights Matter Project

4. Datin Anit Kaur Randhawa, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group member; Medico Legal Society Malaysia (MLSM) vice president (legal); The OKU Rights Matter Project member

5. Datin PH Wong, Childline Foundation

6. Dr Selva Kumar Sivapunniam, consultant paediatrician, Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) president

7. Cathryn Anila, Vanguards4Change president and founder

8. Desiree Kaur, Project Haans founder; Kiwanis Club of TTDI vice president

9. Dr Amelia Alias, researcher, Childline Foundation

10. Meera Samanther, disability-gender activist, parent advocate, committee member, Association of Women Lawyers (AWL); member of the Bar Council Civil Law & Law Reform Committee; and Harapan OKU Law Reform Group member

11. Association of Toy Libraries Malaysia

12. Goh Siu Lin, Family and Child Rights advocate

13. Prof Dato Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, Suhakam commissioner

14. Assoc Prof Dr Kamal Kenny, FRHAM chairman

15. Yap Sook Yee, WeCareJourney founder

16.  Syed Azmi, child activist.

17. Kasthuri Krishnan, Family and Child Rights advocate

18. Azira Aziz, lawyer

19. RD Ramesh Patel, Pertubuhan Kebajikan Vivekananda Rembau NS chairman

20. Make it Right Movement, PJ Selangor

21. Dato Dr Hartini Zainudin, child activist

22. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)

23. Ajeet Kaur, CRIB Foundation co-chairperson

24. Lee Teong Hooi, CRIB Foundation treasurer

25. National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO)

26. Robyn Choi, National Human Rights Society (Hakam) deputy president

27. Margaret Loy, Community Transformation Initiative Bhd founder

28. PUAKPayong

29. Ananti Rajasingam, Yayasan Chow Kit

30. SAWO – Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group

31. CRIB Foundation

32. Association of Women Lawyers

33. ENGENDER

34. Sisters in Islam

35. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

36. Protect and Save the Children

37. Malaysian Council for Child Welfare

38. End CSEC Network

39. Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)

40. Persatuan Tadika Malaysia (PTM)

41. Looi Lydia, Persatuan Guru-Guru Tadika Perak advisor

42. Persatuan Pengasuhan dan Perkembangan Awal Kanak-kanak Berdaftar Malaysia (PPBM)

43. Jeannie Low, Play Unlimited

44. Melissa Akhir, Kemban Kolektif

45. Majlis Pengasuhan dan Pendidikan Awal Kanak Kanak Malaysia (ECCE Council)

46. Malaysian Assoc of Professional Early Childhood Educators (MAPECE)

47. Malaysian Child Resource Institute (MCRI)

48. Kennedy Michael, Community Action Nexus.

49. ANAK Sabah

50. Roslizawati Md Ali, Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control & Health (MyWATCH)

51. Datuk Dr Raj Karim, Majlis Kebajikan Kanak Kanak Msia (MKKM)

52. Shamsinah Shariff, National Association of Early Childhood Care & Education Malaysia (NAECCEM) president

53. Nurazianty Nawawi, Kelab Rekreasi Pengasuh Malaysia (KRPM)

54. Buku Jalanan Chow Kit

55. Cikgu Rahayu BJCK

56. Study Hub Asia

57. Jameyah Sheriff, Sekolah Belantara

58. Asna Hidayah, Incredible Hearts

59. Pam Gunaretnam, Humankind

60. Persatuan Kebajikan Sokongan Keluarga Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers)

61. Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)

62. Malaysian Association of Social Workers

63. Reproductive Health Association Kelantan (Rehak)

64. Hasan Al Akraa Refugee Emergency Fund

65. Liliane Fan Guatanyeo Foundation

66. Montessori Association Malaysia (MAM)

67. Be My Protector (BMP)

68. Federation of Malaysian Sri Lankan Organisations

69. Malaysian Rare Disease Society

70. OPIS International

71. Dr Irene Cheah & Dr Mary Marret, MPA Child Protection Sub Committee

72. Childline Young Leaders Programme Cohort 1

73. Petaling Jaya Child Council (PJCC)

74. Dr Indra Sevarajah, World Crises Intervention Commission chair, World Federation of Music Therapy Council