Despite Malaysia’s ratification of the UNCRC and relevant laws for child
participation, children’s voices are still unheard, if not silenced in Malaysia. The
culture of perceiving children as incapable of understanding or knowing about
matters that concern them is the root cause of the lack of empowerment for
children to participate in family, schools, community and child-related policy-
making decisions. Child participation in Malaysia today is limited to manipulation,
decoration and tokenism, the first three ‘rungs’ of Hart’s ladder of child
participation, which outlines increasing levels of power and control over
decision-making that adults can give to children. Children’s opinions are not
included in decisions on laws, policies and programmes that affect them.
Children’s freedom to express their views are not nurtured or institutionalised,
and safe spaces for them to speak out are lacking.
1. Empower children as child rights advocates and rights holders.
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 2E-1)
Uphold Articles 12-17 of the UNCRC, amplify and institutionalise child
participation in law and policy-making decisions, programme design, planning
2. Create awareness of children on child rights.
Include children from diverse and marginalised groups, in keeping with the UN
Children’s Fund (UNICEF) principle of leaving no child behind.
3. Establish the Rukun Tetangga, residential associations and educational
institutions as safe spaces to nurture, educate and empower children to
express their views.
4. Increase adult-initiated shared decision-making processes with children
and child-initiated and directed participation within the next five years.
5. Promote inclusivity and holistic participation in schools.
i. Allow children to choose the arts or science stream, sports and other
ii. Enable all children from marginalised and diverse communities to access
national primary and secondary schools.
6. Encourage teachers to act as guides instead of instructors.
II: The Right to be Safe
From 2011 to 2018, there were 13,846 reported cases of child neglect, 10,046 of
physical abuse and 8,112 of sexual abuse, according to the Ministry of Women,
Family and Community Development (MWFCD) in 2019.
The existing laws, policies, guidelines and procedures to protect children are not
aligned with the UNCRC. For example, the Syariah law permits child marriage;
national security is cited as an excuse to arrest, detain and deport child refugees;
the Education Regulations Act 2006 allows corporal punishment; and child rights
and protection are poorly reflected in the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-
Smuggling of Migrants Act 2017.
Although a child protection system exists, and services include an integrated
system to respond to child abuse and neglect at major government hospitals
nation-wide, there are still gaps in accessing and receiving quality services in the
OSCC and Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) teams in major
government hospitals, planning, implementation and inter-agency coordination
between authorities, NGOs and private sectors on child protection prevention
and response mechanisms. With only 208 child protectors to manage child abuse,
neglect and exploitation cases nationwide, the ratio of child protectors to children
is 1:45,142. Existing services and helplines are not coordinated, insufficient and
inaccessible to marginalised communities, and absent in many states and districts.
Due to delayed and fragmented services, child survivors experience
revictimisation—they recount their horrific experiences repeatedly during
reporting and investigation; the trauma prevents them from reporting and
seeking further help, despite mandatory reporting.
Cases of child abuse are also underreported due to discrimination and
stigmatisation, gender stereotyping, social, cultural and religious barriers, and
poor awareness. Adding to this, the data on child abuse, neglect and exploitation
is collected on an ad hoc and siloed basis, lacking inter-agency coordination.
Specialised and competent judicial officers, prosecutors, enforcement officers,
social workers and service providers lack the knowledge and skills to support
child abuse, neglect and exploitation survivors with safe placements, case
management, medical, psychosocial, SRHR, alternative care, judicial and legal
support, and rehabilitation in a timely manner. Police are reluctant to investigate
child marriages, domestic violence and online crimes against children if a police
report has not been lodged, so early interventions and rescue efforts are
hindered. Specialised rehabilitation programmes for sex offenders are lacking,
thus increasing the risk of repeated offences.
Vulnerable, marginalised children who lack status and documentation–essentially
rendered invisible in society–lack access to the child protection system and
services, and are thus more susceptible to all forms of violence. They have been
trafficked into debt bondage situations, subjected to worst forms of child labour,
sexually exploited and sold into child marriages—little wonder that Malaysia is in
the bottom, Tier 3 Watch List of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report of the
US Department of State.
A top-down approach in mitigating the problem has not helped. Policies,
programmes, services, and educational communication materials are not
developed with participation from children and families, including marginalised
communities, and therefore not age, gender, culturally and linguistically
appropriate, or disabled-friendly.
7. Synergise relevant national laws and policies to align with the UNCRC,
CEDAW, and other international legal instruments and frameworks.
Include online child protection in the National Child Policy and Action Plan.
8. Accept and implement UN Resolution 71/175 to end child marriage.
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 2E-2)
i. Raise and standardise the age of sexual consent and marriage to 18 years.
ii. Expand the National Strategy Plan in Handling the Causes of Child
Marriage to include comprehensive prevention and response
programmes, and make this accessible to all marginalised children, i.e.
refugees, stateless, undocumented.
9. Mainstream child safeguarding and prevention of sexual exploitation
and abuse into all organisations.
Institutionalise and capacitate these actions in all levels and fields, i.e.
government, health, education, community- and faith-based organisations,
NGOs, the private sector and all other stakeholders.
10. Establish an Independent Children’s Commissioner to report directly
(Sallawahiu Mohd Salleh, IKRAM, Proposal 2E-3)
The Commissioner should have the powers to oversee, regulate and address all
forms of violence affecting children.
11. Institutionalise community-based and child-friendly curriculum on
child rights, child development, child protection, including mandatory
reporting and comprehensive sexuality education in the national and
private educational systems.
This includes learning centres, madrasahs, and faith- and community-based
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 2E-2)
12. Increase funds and resources for the national inter-agency child
protection case and information system and services.
13. Establish an inter-agency child protection information and case
management system including a referral pathway for child protection
service providers and alternative care providers.
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposals 2E-4 & 2E-5)
i. Institutionalise a dedicated, confidential and non-discriminatory hotline
with adequate and trained responders.
ii. Institutionalise and amplify competent and specialised teams providing
rescue, legal, psychosocial, medical, rehabilitation and case management
iii. Institutionalise child-centred processes, procedures and child-friendly
consultations and interview techniques in programmes, systems and
services across all fields, i.e. welfare, enforcement, legal, judiciary,
healthcare including mental health, SRHR, education, labour and
14. Map, enhance and make accessible child-friendly services for all
children and families.
15. Establish and monitor specialised alternative care arrangements for
orphans, unaccompanied and separated and at-risk children, focusing on
kinship care, foster care and community-based care.
16. Establish and monitor rehabilitation programmes for underage sex
offenders and children who manifest inappropriate risky sexual
17. Meaningfully engage children, families and communities, including
marginalised groups, to participate in decisions affecting them.
i. To promote girls to stay in school and complete their tertiary education,
and prevent child labour and trafficking, incentivise parents or caregivers
through financial aid or employment.
ii. Empower children, families and communities to keep themselves safe
from all forms of violence by institutionalising dialogue, awareness
raising and empowerment programmes nationwide.
iii. Ensure education communication, development and advocacy materials
are age, gender, culturally and linguistically appropriate, and disabled
iv. Ensure children and families participate in decision-making processes on
law and policy development and reforms, planning, operations, resource
mobilisation, budget, designing, implementing and monitoring multi-
sectoral child protection prevention and response programmes and
18. Amplify action-oriented research on violence against children and use
evidence-based data as a basis to advocate for law and policy reforms,
programmes on prevention and response.
19. Replicate Petaling Jaya’s Child Council initiative.
Amplify child councils in all states and districts, ensuring child representatives
from all diverse and marginalised groups.
20. Stop the arrest, detention and deportation of undocumented, refugee
and asylum-seeking and stateless children.
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 2E-5)
III: Barriers to Education
Non-citizen children of Malaysians, migrant, undocumented, stateless and
refugee children are not enrolled in national schools as they face severe
restrictions for admission to national schools due to their status. Parents are
forced to seek costlier alternatives and/or place their children in madrasahs or
learning centres where the quality of education and safety of children are not
monitored or regulated by the state authorities. The bureaucracy that surrounds
the admission of these children into the national school system often results in
children being admitted much later in the academic year and/or non-admittance.
Even after being admitted, the status of their enrolment is not permanent as
there is no system of automatic renewal; instead, they must repeat the admissions
process annually. These group of children in the national school system, learning
centres and madrasahs are ineligible for many schemes and aid, incurring
additional costs of education. In some cases, children are prohibited from sitting
for examinations and representing their schools in state and national-level
School and learning centre closures and online education in the past two years
had resulted in children dropping out of schools and learning centres, failing to
catch up with their peers and increasing their risk to online child abuse, bullying,
exploitation and addiction. These children with little or no access to education
will be placed in higher grades without any assessment against their current
literacy levels. The current online education solution instructs teachers to
conduct their lessons virtually, without much thought or research given to the
methodology of online teaching which necessitates due consideration be given to
the attention span of children, screen time and continuous engagement of all
children including those from poor socio-economic backgrounds, disabled and
21. Amend the Education Act 1996 to allow all children in Malaysia equal
access to primary, secondary and tertiary education.
This is regardless of citizenship, documentation and social background status.
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 2E-6)
22. Extend welfare assistance programmes to all students regardless of
Examples of such programmes are the Textbook Loan Scheme and
Supplementary Food Programme.
23. Standardise student enrolment.
24. Maintain and increase attendance and enrolment in schools.
i. The MOE must trace every child registered in school in 2020 and 2021,
and identify absentees and dropouts in all schools, learning centres and
ii. Institutionalise a monitoring system across all schools, learning centres
and madrasahs to mitigate the risk of children dropping out of school
and ensure all children are enrolled in the school system in 2022.
iii. Every child registered in schools and learning centres and madrasahs
must have the means or capacity to access online schooling.
25. Enforce effective learning assessments.
Schools must enforce and conduct systematic and effective assessments on
children to identify their knowledge levels in each of the core subjects regardless
of the grades they are in. For early primary years, these assessments must include
reading, arithmetic, comprehension and motor skills. Based on the assessments,
vulnerable children should be allowed to drop down a grade or a standard by
extending the relevant support so that they can catch up. Schools must be
empowered to put these placements in effect regardless of whether parents, after
advisement, consent or not.
26. Strengthen the education syllabus and teaching methodology.
i. Include online and hybrid learning, consider the learning needs of
children with shorter attention spans, and children from disabled and
ii. Make available hybrid methods of teaching which allow for more
classroom participation, inter-class bonding and encourage or foster
27. Provide specialised support to vulnerable children.
i. Offer tutoring sessions three-to-five times a week for up to three
months, in groups of about three, either during regular school hours or
before or after school to enable vulnerable students to catch up
ii. Offer targeted teaching, literacy and numeracy programmes, especially
for vulnerable students and those from marginalised and disabled
iii. Make available access to financial aid, technological devices and the
internet for children from marginalised and vulnerable backgrounds to
access hybrid ways of learning.
iv. Reduce the student-teacher ratio.
28. Increase children’s protection and well-being.
i. Make available and amplify personal skills development, social skills and
physical education lessons in all schools, learning centres and
ii. Promote and enable children to engage in more social interaction
activities in schools, learning centres and madrasahs.
iii. Make available trained child-friendly counsellors and teachers in all
schools, learning centres and madrasahs to institutionalise prevention
and response programmes and services to address children’s protection
and mental health issues, including mitigating the risk of online crimes
against children and internet addiction.
iv. Institutionalise child-safeguarding policies and procedures with
confidential mechanisms aligned with the national mandatory reporting
for children to safely report on abuse, neglect and exploitation in
schools, learning centres and madrasahs.
29. Institutionalise capacity building for all teachers on online, child-
friendly and inclusive education and teaching methodology.
(Srividhya Ganapathy, CRIB (Child Rights Innovation & Betterment) Foundation, Proposal 2E-7)
30. Institutionalise duty of care for all school workforce to prevent burnout
(Child Cluster, CSO Platform for Reform, Proposal 2E-6)
IV: Barriers to Health
Non-citizen children of a Malaysian parent are designated as foreigners in public
medical facilities, which carry additional fees compared with citizens. These
children are made vulnerable when their guardian is unable to afford these higher
rates—only those born in Malaysia under the age of 12, holding a Malaysian birth
certificate and with at least one parent who is a citizen or permanent residence
holder, and those under the age of 18 adopted by Malaysian parents and with
certified adoption papers are able to enjoy the same rate as citizens. The
unaffordable cost of healthcare makes it difficult for parents and children to
access essential health services. COVID-19 has underscored the crucial need for
good access to healthcare; a child’s life can all too easily become endangered if
the cost of treatment is too expensive.
31. The health sector must provide for comprehensive and holistic care of
children and address all aspects of UNCRC, i.e. child survival, protection,
development and participation.
32. Amplify and institutionalise inter-agency coordination and
collaboration efforts to enable multi-sectoral responses to overcome cross-
cutting health issues.
For example, the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children.
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Laura Sui San
Mental Health Association of Sarawak (MHAS)