Urgent Need for an Independent Children’s Commission

By Dato’ Dr. Amar-Singh HSS

We, the undersigned child advocates and civil society organisations for children, urge the Government to expeditiously establish an independent Children’s Commission that will promptly act on issues affecting children, as well as safeguard, uphold and promote child rights.

The pandemic has revealed serious and systemic gaps in the care and protection of children; which have yet to be dealt with and resolved. A single Commissioner for Children under Suhakam does not have the necessary time, authority and resources to effectively address these gaps and guide the Government on how to prioritise resource allocations to ensure the well-being of children. The time to act is now; we must stop failing our children.

An independent Children’s Commission which reports directly to Parliament will enable all Parliamentarians to have oversight over children in Malaysia. Monitoring their rights and progress is fundamental to the growth and future of our nation and society. Should today’s leaders fail our children, that is a failure of stewardship of the nation’s future leaders, voters and workforce.

An independent, adequately funded Children’s Commission comprising Commissioners with expertise in issues affecting children and staff would be able to support Ministries, Departments and Agencies by providing their much-needed expertise to strengthen policies, processes and procedures. Lawmakers, Ministers and civil servants who are subjected to transfers cannot be expected to be subject matter experts. A Children’s Commission, with Commissioners who have a strong grasp of the realities of diverse groups of children in marginalised circumstances, would be in a position to examine the impact of laws, policies and procedures on children. The proposed Commissioners would also be able to articulate effective recommendations that align laws, policies and procedures with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and two of its three Optional Protocols that Malaysia has ratified, as well Malaysian legislation covering child rights.

The Children’s Commission must be comprehensive and have a wide scope to cover all critical children-related areas, including the following (not exhaustive): strengthen child protection; work to end child poverty; improve child health service delivery; advance inclusive education for children with diverse disabilities; improve early childhood care, education and early intervention services; improve the status of migrants, refugees and stateless; improve services for children in conflict with the law; prevent the detention of any child; end child marriage, and reduce teenage pregnancies; support indigenous children; remove all barriers to children of Malaysian parents from acquiring citizenship. The Children’s Commission must be able to recognize and remedy violations of children’s rights as they occur, by applying good practices and human rights standards.

Any delay to the well-being and protection of a single child can have devastating and long-lasting consequences. Thus, any delay in establishing an independent Children’s Commission will have significant and long-lasting consequences for the wellbeing of ALL children in Malaysia.

The Bill to establish a Children’s Commission is a crucial step towards aligning Malaysia with its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We would like the Prime Minister and Cabinet to know that we, child advocates and civil society organisations, are firmly behind this initiative and offer our full support. It is the single most important plan that the Government has put forward for the betterment of children in our nation.

Many thanks to the Prime Minister’s Department for being the prime driver of this Bill, and for ensuring meaningful engagement with stakeholders, including civil society.

We extend our blessings as the Cabinet deliberates on this, and pray that an independent Children’s Commission will be supported and proposed to Parliament for consideration. It is our hope that all lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, care enough about Malaysia’s children to unanimously support the passage of the Bill for the establishment of an independent Children’s Commission.

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