November 25, 2020

Child safety is paramount

4 min read

I HAVE always stated that the wrongdoers in Malaysia – those who break the laws of the land – know the government policymakers’ psyche far too well! Whenever there are disasters, structures collapsing, roads caving in, train accidents, or when buses or lorries plunge into ravines killing many, the public is promised holistic changes in the aftermath – which never come.

The reasons for these accidents could be any of the following: Urbanisation, poor safety standards, corruption and lack of enforcement, distraction/fatigue/substance abuse/drunk driving/speeding, parental negligence or recklessness. The Road Transport Act has enough provisions to address and curtail these issues but there is a big “if” when it comes to enforcement. And because those breaking the law are still on the road, they are a threat to every law-abiding road user.

And now we have the ongoing debate on child car seats, which is simply embarrassing. I congratulate the Transport Ministry for spearheading this initiative and the Women, Family, and Community Development Ministry for its proactive statements about it. This is despite the backlash by a selfish minority towards its implementation (which I found out when I was on a live television talk show earlier this week).

In many countries, the laws pertaining to child car seats have been tabled, passed and enforced without compromise and with ease. In fact, there is never any debate on this critical issue of child safety. In the United States alone, between 1975 and 2008, more than 9,000 children were saved because of the non-compromising implementation of this rule.

Malaysia is home to about 32 million people. We can safely say that one third of the population is made up of children. And Malaysia has made great strides in looking after these vulnerable members of the population by reducing child poverty, eradicating diseases that threaten them, introducing legislation protecting children, and enabling access to education. But what are we doing about child safety issues? Or about legislation against parents who are indifferent, negligent or reckless resulting in fatalities among children?

As far as accidents are concerned, Malaysia has the third highest number in Asean behind only Thailand and Vietnam. Globally, we are among 25 most dangerous countries for road users. And we are advised that for every child that dies of dengue, 30 die on the road.

These are all shocking statistics!

In several countries, including our nearest neighbours, there are no arguments or debates about the introduction of child car seats but, sadly, here in Malaysia, there are incompetent statements made by many quarters. Among them: “I have many little children so must I buy seven seats and where do I put them in my small car?” “I cannot afford a child seat.” “You must give us more time for its implementation.” “I trust God and if God wants my child dead it will happen, even with child car seats.” “If the government wants to implement this ruling they should subsidise its costs as well.”

Inexplicably, no one wants to know that in 2016, accidents were the fourth cause of death after heart disease, pneumonia and cerebrovascular disease.

Currently, there isn’t a law that mandates the use of child car seats so the announcement that Jan 1,2020, will see its advent is most welcome!

But based on my 40 years in consumer advocacy and public policy initiatives involvement, I foresee a delay in its no compromise implementation, like all other such intended implementations. For example, a lot was said during the drive against smoking in public spaces but that campaign today is ridiculed for a lack of strict implementation and enforcement.

On both issues of public interest, child car seats and anti-smoking legislation, we hear screams for more time – seriously?

In our public interest advocacy work over the past four decades, we have always pushed for the 5Es: Education, Enforcement, Engineering for social and legal policies for child protection, initiating an Environmental Ecosystem for child protection, Evaluation to audit that we keep up with the latest and current universal standards without compromise.

But we cannot continue if there is neither political will nor courage in our lawmakers and enforcers to walk the talk. Not compromising on motorcycle helmets, the wearing of seat belts, using child car seats, and removing those reckless and negligent on Malaysian roads and highways is in the national and public interest.

It is about time that implementation and enforcement become a reality without compromise or delay.

DATUK DR JACOB GEORGE

President, Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam

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