October 7, 2022

Treat children as equal stakeholders

4 min read

WEDNESDAY was World Children’s Day. First established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day, it is celebrated each year to promote international togetherness and awareness among children worldwide, and to improve children’s welfare.

Unicef commemorated the day with a #KidsTakeOver campaign, in which children took over roles in media, politics and business, among others, to speak on issues close to their hearts.

Under Unicef Malaysia, Project ID and Undi18, 20 secondary school students from all over Malaysia presented policy ideas

on bullying to Members of Parliament (MPs) on Wednesday afternoon in Parliament. I was lucky enough to meet them on the eve of their presentation and help them “warm up” for their day in Parliament!

While the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV 2030) is often discussed in terms of jobs and business, it should extend to child welfare as well to truly capture the essence of better lives for Malaysians.

Last December, Selangor amended its Islamic Family Law (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003 and Syariah Court Civil Procedure (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003 to increase the minimum marriage age from 16 to 18. The Sultan of Selangor was a huge advocate of the amendment. Other states that have agreed to amend their respective enactments are Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak, as reported in Parliament this week.

Although conversation has largely focused on Muslim child marriages, we must not lose sight of the fact that non-Muslim child marriages have increased about 20% annually since 2015. Civil society groups have highlighted rising urban poverty and the lack of sex education as factors.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry has announced that the draft national strategic plan to tackle child marriages is in the final stage, with action programmes involving 16 agencies at federal and state levels. This is progress, but more urgency is needed in educating communities and convincing the remaining seven states to amend their laws.

Related to that, the ministry has actively tackled sex education and teenage pregnancy. Five PSA cartoon videos, which were launched in July, have charted upwards of 199,000 daily views, with the highest number being 1.2 million. A Sexual and Reproductive Health for Boys programme designed by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) will teach respect for girls, consent and the law.

To tackle baby dumping, the Talian Kasih hotline 15999 has been publicised extensively. The commercial is now screened at all TGV cinemas. Posters have also been placed in PLUS Expressways R&R toilets. Last month, deputy minister Hannah Yeoh announced that pharmacies will display the posters.

Baby hatches are also available around the country, run by OrphanCare in Selangor, Johor and Kedah as well as nine KPJ Hospitals. In Petaling Jaya, the OrphanCare hatch is at Section 5, Bukit Gasing.

Through increased publicity of Talian Kasih, another phenomenon was detected: Children were calling to express their loneliness. Recently, The Befrienders reported that children as young as 10 were e-mailing to confide about depression, which was largely due to lack of parental attention.

Impact of social media on child mental health was highlighted when a 16-year-old girl in Batu Kawa, Sarawak, committed suicide after conducting an Instagram poll. The fact is this generation grew up surrounded by technology. A two-year-old can now easily operate an iPad to watch Baby Shark on repeat. Like it or not, we must equip our children so that they become mentally resilient while enjoying technology’s benefits – think AI, robotics and an unlimited world of information.

In my talks to school children, I encourage them to pick up skills in fields they like. Love Blackpink? Why not learn K-pop moves via classes or YouTube? This applies to both children and adults. When we know what we are capable of, how we look will seem less important.

In light of child deaths at daycare centres or babysitters, the government via the Welfare Department (JKM) has intensified the “Jom Daftar Taska dan Pusat Jagaan” programme. JKM Selangor also introduced a campaign titled “Sayangi Anak, Kenali Pengasuh” (“Love Your Child, Know Your Sitter”) in August 2018.

Following that, I submitted a question for this July’s State Assembly sitting, requesting the latest registration statistics. From September 2018 till June 2019, 160 centres have registered, and work is ongoing to scrutinise and register more legitimate centres. The Selangor state government is also compiling a database of babysitters that parents can access according to their respective localities. Named i-Asuh, it is expected to be completed this month.

Recently, our Kampung Tunku Pusat Wanita Berdaya (PWB) and Penggerak Belia Tempatan (PeBT) organised an anti-bullying workshop for parents and teachers. We discovered that stakeholders – be they children, parents (of the bully and the bullied) or teachers – were uncertain on how to respond. What happens if the teacher is the bully?

Through projects like the #KidsTakeOver campaign, organisations like Unicef Malaysia, Project ID and Undi 18 are doing a great job equipping children to express their opinions to adults and society in general. Society needs to respond in kind, especially when our children signal that something is not quite right.

There is much commentary on how the current generation of children is “soft”. I think we can do better, and we must work to change unhealthy norms. It is worth remembering that the “norm” of ragging and physical abuse in boarding schools killed 21-year-old naval cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, and that the societal “norm” of “boys must be tough” killed 18-year-old T. Nhaveen.

I hope we Malaysians can adjust our perspective to view children not just as resources of the future but as equal stakeholders in the present. In creating a safe and healthy environment for our children now, we create better adults and parents for the next generation.


Selangor state assemblywoman for Kampung Tunku

Petaling Jaya