The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 20 November 1989. The CRC is a legal treaty, which provides a comprehensive framework for children’s rights. The CRC is significant as children’s rights are recognized as human rights and for the first time children are set apart as worthy subjects of international rights and protection. The rights based approach is essential in promoting and protecting children’s rights as it marks a paradigm shift of perceiving children as objects of charity and of their parents to children as an individual and as members of the human family and thus, equally entitled to fundamental rights.
Malaysia acceded to the CRC on the 17 February 1995. There are four sets of rights that the CRC seeks to protect -
a. The right to survival: The right to survival recognized that a child is entitled to the basic right to life, to a healthy life and an adequate standard of living.
b. The right to development: Within this conceptual framework of the right to development is a child’s right to develop his or her personality through education.
c. The right to protection: These impose obligation upon Sates Parties and every member of society to safeguard children from all forms of abuse, sexual exploitation and illicit use of narcotic drugs. It also addresses
the rights of children who are in need of special protection, such as children involved in armed conflicts, refugee children and children going through the process of adoption.
d. The right to participation: Another noteworthy feature of CRC is the inclusion of children in the decision making process. This includes participation and self expression of children consistent with their evolving capacities, particularly in decisions that affect them. Children are no longer passive subjects but active subjects of rights. Further if children are not given a voice, their invisibility would perpetuate their vulnerability and they would be open to exploitation and abuse.
Over in Malaysia, 13 years on, some of the recommendations made during a Suhakam round table discussion 2 years ago are still of great concern to Shelter. Among them are:
1. Prioritizing Children’s Cases in Court – Court cases involving children must be prioritized and the speedy disposal of the cases. It is recommended that cases for children should be disposed off within 3 months. For minor offence, cautioning of the child should be used instead of resorting to bringing them to court.
2. Training for Court Officer – Advisers, magistrates and probation officers need further training to sensitize and prepare them for the rigours of the child justice system.
3. To use imprisonment only as a last resort for child offenders – In this regard, research should be carried out to study the various means of effective sentencing policies involving children.
4. Right to Education for Children in Detention – The Government needs to develop policies to ensure that children in detention are ensured their rights to education even during their period of detention since education will give them a chance to reform and become good members of the society.
5. Name, Nationality and the Preservation of Identity – There should be an increase in awareness, with regard to information on registration, access to registration and the formulation of training for registration staff so as to sensitize them to the plight of unwed and/or single mothers thereby reducing stigmatization.
6. Protection Issues – Legislation, education programs to protect the child from physical/mental abuse, maltreatment and social programs for the prevention of abuse must take into consideration and re-assess the emotional welfare of children.
7. Rehabilitative Care for Children – There is a need to heighten awareness on the importance of mental and emotional health. Parents and guardians should be encouraged to seek counseling or other psychological help to facilitate the child’s emotional recovery and rehabilitation of offenders.