By Ir. Ahmad Jais Alias
Not long ago, the nation was jolted by several incidences of children gone missing, but how sure are we that our children are safe from harm's way nowadays?
Instances involving the disappearance of innicent juveniles like Nurin Jazlin, Sharlinie and Asmawi were given prominent media coverage, followed by intensive public campaigns and efforts taken by the community in trying to locate them.
However, over time, they have faded from public scrutiny and seemed to have been forgotten.
Consequently, a recent workshop on Child Protection and Safety Rights organised by the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia’s (IKIM) Counselling and Training Centre served as a gentle reminder on the need to ensure that our children are safe and protected at all times.
Among the issue raised during the workshop session was the extent and comprehensiveness to which the Child Protection law is being implemented in the country.
Laws to protect children were enacted in Malaysia as early as 1947 via the Children and Young Persons Act, Juvenile Court Act 1947, Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 and Child Protection Act 1991.
In keeping with development, the Children Act 2001 was enacted on Aug 1, 2002, to provide comprehensive protection for children in Malaysia.
Also known as Act 611, it streamlines all the relevant laws pertaining to the care, protection and rehabilitation of children, including provisions for related matters.
Among the responsibilities outlined by Act 611 is the role and responsibility of parents and guardians in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children under their care, their responsibility of reporting child abuse cases and the establishment of Juvenile Court.
But how effective can the Children Act 2001 be, if follow-up and enforcement measures are found wanting?
Whenever something untoward happens to a child, we often we see a lot of finger pointing going round among the parties concerned.
CHILDREN AT PLAY ARE UNSUPERVISED
Parents will put the blame squarely on the police and the relevant government agencies for any mishap that befall their children outside of the home environment, arguing that ensuring public safety and security should be the responsibility of the authorities.
The authorities on the other hand, will put the fault on the parents and society at large, for their ignorance and indiligence in allowing the child to be exposed to the threat of criminal elements, in the first place.
Generally, voluntary bodies like the Parents- Teachers Associations (PTAs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), teachers and parents themselves have not been able to come up with a concrete plan of action that would ensure the safety and protection of children under their ward.
Just take a stroll in any playground or open space, inevitably we are sure to come across children left playing or loitering around, left unattended and unsupervised by the adults who are responsible for their safety and wellbeing.
Leaving children to their own devices is fraught with danger as it exposes them to potential threats and harm from undesirable elements.
CARELESSNESS AND IGNORANCE
Then there are parents who get so engrossed with their shopping that they are oblivious to the fact that their children are no longer tagging along behind them. Recall how often we hear announcements requesting parents to collect their lost and bewildered offspring at the customer service counters in shopping centres.
Such incidences only reflect the carelessness and ignorance on the part of the parents concerned.
Parents should realise that their children have been entrusted upon them by the Almighty, as such they should carry out their responsibilities to the best of their abilities.
Children have the right to receive love, care and affection from their parents or custodians, in addition to basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. On top of that, they have the right to an education and spiritual guidance, in order to develop their human potentials.
SAFETY IN SCHOOL
But do all parents, especially those who are barely out of their teenage years, realise and understand all these things?
The question of children's safety in schools and daycare centres are often contentious. There seem to be a tendency for some parents to pass the buck to the school and teachers.
Such an attitude often cause misunderstanding between parents and teachers as to where their responsiblities towards the students should lie.
Teachers, who are already burdened by their Herculean workload, are now asked to ensure the safety of children in schools.
If a child were to get injured at school, these teachers face the threat of a legal action instituted by the child’s parents. This only serves to add pressure to an already emotive profession.
Thus, a better way to ensure the safety of children while they are at school needs to be looked into. The PTAs should play the intermediary in ensuring that children are safe whenever they in the confines of the school. But at home, the duty lies squarely on the parents’ shoulders.
The parents’ active involvement in PTA activities and school events would help foster better understanding between teachers and parents, and should be strongly encouraged.
Another aspect that is frequently overlooked is that society at large, too some degree, is responsible for the general safety of children in their midst. This means that we should not turn a blind eye to the plight of a child who is in trouble, just because the child is not our's.
Thankfully, in light of the tragic disappearances, the spirit of public awareness on the need to look out for childrens' safety appears to be on the rise. NGOs, support groups and voluntary organisations of various nationalities have all jumped on the bandwagon in their effort to locate the missing children.
It is hoped that this is spirit of ‘togetherness’ is not a passing concern that would quickly dissipate once the episode has been concluded.
Ensuring the coordination between NGOs and members of the community must be one of the top priorities for the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. Those from all levels of society and every individual within the community must be roped in to ensure the safety of children in their midst.
If we want to avoid such tragedy from recurring, every one of us must join hands and collectively be the ‘eyes and ears’ for each other, in our effort to ensure the safety of all of our children.
Towards this end, IKIM’s effort at organising the workshop on Children's Right to Protection and Safety is certainly a step in the right direction.
(The writer is a Fellow Consultant at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia’s (IKIM) Counselling and Training Centre)