Despite the existence of rights, children suffer from poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases and unequal access to education and justice systems that do not recognize their special needs. These are problems that occur in both industrialized and developing countries.
As we in SHELTER go about our community work, more often than not we are exposed to countless cases of violation of children’s rights. Every month, we encounter cases of poverty stricken families where most of the time, children are the victim of circumstances. The children are often being violated of the right to the highest standard of health and medical care, the right to be protected from work that threatens his or her health, education or development; and most commonly, violated of their right to education.
Monica* who just turned 12, was still in her mother’s womb, when her father left the family. Her mother, Elizabeth*, used to work as a restaurant helper, but after giving birth to Monica, her legs began giving her problems and she could not stand for long periods. Eventually, she had to give up her job and live on the meagre income her son earned from doing odd jobs and also contributions from friends and neighbours. Elizabeth said that although she has two brothers and six sisters who are quiet well-off, they were not willing to help her.
Monica has never been to school because she does not have any birth documentation. Elizabeth who is illiterate tried to get some documentation to prove the birth of her daughter but when she went back to the clinic where she had her delivery, they claimed that the records were lost in a fire. As a result, Monica stayed at home most of the time without much education.
Monica’s family lived in a rented flat belonging to Dewan Bandaraya (City Hall) Kuala Lumpur. They were supposed to pay a rent of RM 124 a month but it had not been paid for the past four years! To date, they owe the council RM6101.80 for rental and an additional RM1209.65 for water consumption. Elizabeth tried seeking help from the Malaysian Indian Congress in 2003. There was no follow up after that.
Monica’s brother, Michael* stopped schooling at standard 4, when he was 10 years old, in order to support the family. Since then, he has done odd jobs and managed to earn enough for his family’s subsistence each month. However, earlier this year, he was arrested by the police for robbing a lady of her necklace and cell-phone during the Thaipusam festival in Batu Caves. According to Elizabeth, he was together with six other friends and they were all drinking and got quite drunk. One of them stole the lady’s belongings. The police gave chase and all of them escaped from the police, except for Michael. Bail was posted at RM 10,000 and later reduced to Rm 5000, but they could not afford to bail him out. He has been detained in Sungai Buloh prison for more than two months. With Michael in detention, the family has lost their main financial support.
The task to stand up for children’s rights, does not just involve the government but all members of society. The standards and principles articulated in the Convention can only become a reality when they are respected everyone – within the family, in schools and other institutions that provide services for children, in communities and at all levels of administration.
*names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals.