Kuala Lumpur, 15 July — The recent revelations of vulnerable children suffering abuse and harm in homes intended to provide them with shelter and care, is heartbreaking. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to expose and amplify gaps and limitations of Malaysia’s welfare and social protection systems, the risk factors for neglect, abuse and violence have risen to unprecedented levels, exposing children across the country to situations which threaten their health, wellbeing, and safety.
As seen in the #JusticeForBella case, children living with disabilities are particularly exposed due to the disruption of community, social support and caregiver services, and the continuous need to be in confinement. Children’s rights to protection and safety are clearly affected and jeopardised by the ongoing crisis.
Protecting vulnerable children, especially those with special needs, from the threat of violence and harm should not be reactive and solely dependent on legislation, depending on police reports after an incident has occured. Prevention is better, and vigilance can be further strengthened through adoption of child protection policies.
“It is a disturbing fact that many of the government and non-government organisations and bodies which work or have contact with children in Malaysia, do not actually have internal policies which govern their conduct, behaviour and responsibilities when engaging with children,” said Azrul Mohd Khalib, Chief Executive of the Galen Centre for Health And Social Policy.
“Though the Malaysian Child Act 611 (2001) or national level policies such as the Malaysian National Child Protection Policy (2009) exist, it is necessary that organisations and individuals are bound and held accountable to codes of conduct or child protection policies at the organisational level.”
“The incidents involved in #MakeSchoolASaferPlace and #JusticeForBella highlight how essential it is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of children, prevent abuse or neglect before it occurs, and provide clear guidance for action in situations where the health, safety and wellbeing of the child is at risk. They should cover subjects such as recognising abuse or neglect, confidentiality, allegations against staff, bullying, racism, and sexual exploitation.”
“These policies also outline an accountability framework for staff, caregivers, board members, advisers and personalities,” he emphasised.
“The Galen Centre recommends that the SUHAKAM Commissioner For Children, Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun, and the Minister of Education, Datuk Dr. Mohd Radzi Md Jidin, jointly introduce regulation that all organisations and facilities which work with or have contact with children such as homes, schools, hospitals, and drop-in centres, both in the public and private sector, be required to have a child protection policy, with procedures in place to address the safety and wellbeing of children.”
“Working on the basis of good intentions or niat baik, is insufficient, naive and even harmful. It results in people finger-pointing, shirking responsibility, and being unaccountable when things go wrong. These Child Protection Policies and procedures should be prerequisites for formal registration, as well as criteria to receive government funding support. Private donors should also be more discerning, be aware and insist on the existence of child protection policies in the organisation that they are supporting,” Azrul stressed.
“Adults who have a formal or informal role in working with or supporting children are in positions of trust and authority. They have a duty of care towards children who are depending on them to ensure a healthy living and safe working environment.”
“Let’s not wait or drag our feet, acting only when another life has been harmed or lost.”
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The Galen Centre has a Child Protection Policy in place since 15 January 2021. It can be viewed here.