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Child Rights: Medical, Societal and Policy Perspectives

7 September 2012

Press Statement: 

Malaysian Paediatric Association and College of Paediatrics, Academy of Medicine of Malaysia
The judicial outcome of the recent cases of statutory rape has caused public outcry, disbelief and anger. The Attorney-General's Chambers and its chief Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail (The Star 5th Sept 2012), professionals and laypersons alike have voiced their views strongly in the mainstream and online media.
The Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) and the College of Paediatrics Academy of Medicine of Malaysia share these serious concerns that the court rulings may send the wrong message to future offenders. To quote Abdul Gani in the statement “This aberration of justice for those who most need the protection of the law must be rectified” 
As advocates of child health and welfare, we continually call upon the  society be it the government or non-governmental organization to address the wider issues of the rights of the child in a comprehensive manner. Regardless whether it is an issue about poverty and child  hunger, lack of educational opportunities or a child who has been sexually abused by an adult. 
While many had emphasized regarding taking  concrete actions to prevent and stop violence against children, be it physical, sexual or emotional, it is all too easy to become complacent by concentrating on short-term goals. We need holistic long term plans to protect the health, welfare and the inalienable rights of the child.  
We recognize that the adolescence stage of development is a challenging one with rapid and tumultuous physical and emotional changes. The adolescents may be naturally impulsive in their action. Some are notably argumentative and oppositional, searching for their unique identity. Though most transformation occurs due to their biological changes, it is still guided and moderated by societal norms. They can be nurtured by us; the parents and the society as a whole. As these young people are our country’s future assets, they certainly deserve a better deal from us.
What can parents do?
Good parenthood begins with adequate preparation, family planning and child spacing. Positive parenting skills are essential. Children look up to their parents as role-models. Parents must be there for their children, to nurture the young minds and provide unconditional love during this vital period of growth and development.  Parents must also be made aware of signs of abuse in their children.
Teenagers out on the roads at wee hours made frequent news headlines. Parents must be held responsible and ensure their teenagers are safe from road traffic tragedies and other high risk behaviors. Under aged children should never be allowed into pubs and unsupervised in entertainment outlets.
What can our education system do?
Teachers, parents and educators play a key role in educating young children and teenagers on sex education. It is considered a taboo by many in this country to use the word ‘sex’ except to indicate gender. Instead, schools were told to provide ’reproductive health education’. Be that as it may, there is an urgent need to educate our children on their rights to say ‘no’ to requests for sex, to respect their bodies and have self-respect, and for all to respect the opposite sex. They must be made aware the importance of abstinence, the health risks of unplanned pregnancy and the consequences of having unprotected sex and sex at an early age. 
Information on sexually transmitted diseases and contraception must be freely available. These are medical issues and should be treated as such. Each person may have their personal viewpoints on these issues but the physical and mental health of our children and teenagers are too important to be left to armchair critics and untrained persons in child and adolescent health.
What can our society do?
Can we return to that era of caring (before the advent of CCTV) for each other where neighbours keep watch over each other’s children and properties? Perhaps it is an opportune time to go back to the days when ‘it took a community to bring up a child.’
Bringing up a child is no easy task, even under ideal circumstances. When a family lives in poverty with lack of community support, it creates a situation in which child mal-treatment are more likely to occur. Many pockets of poverty exist in our community. These situations inflict significant stress on the family unit and sadly, it is the children who receive the brunt of it.  The eradication of poverty must always be pivotal in our national agenda.
The mass media could focus on preventive measures and advocacy programmes to sensitize our society on the work required to improve the plight and health of our children. It would be ideal for media to work hand in hand with NGOs and professional bodies to champion the rights of the child in our fight against public apathy regarding child abuse and neglect.
What can the government and policymakers do?
Malaysia is a party to the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) as well as having the Penal Code and the Child Act 2001 (Act 611) to fulfill its obligation under the CRC. The provisions of Act 611 are based on the four core principles of the CRC that is, non-discrimination, best interest of the child, the right to life, survival and development and respect for the views of the child. Act 611 also provides for a procedure before the Court for Children which is child-friendly taking into account the mental and emotional maturity of a child.
The “reproductive health” curriculum for primary schools was approved with an allocation of more than RM 30 million in 2006. Unfortunately the  implementation of the subject has yet to take place. 
Child abuse and neglect  is a huge economic burden to the country. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (February 2012), the life time cost for each victim of child maltreatment who lived was USD 210,012 which is comparable to many major non communicable diseases like diabetes. These include the costs for health care, welfare assistance, special education and productivity loss. 
It is also proven by research that child maltreatment can also be linked to emotional, behavior and physical health problems. It brings on a myriad of problems including aggression, conduct disorder, delinquency, antisocial behavior, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, teenage pregnancy, anxiety, depression and suicide, as well as future social and marital difficulties.
We wish to conclude by reiterating two of the major preambles of Act 611:
Recognizing that a child is not only a crucial component of such a society but also the key to its survival, development and prosperity. 
Acknowledging that a child, by reason of his physical, mental and emotional immaturity, is in need of special safeguards, care and assistance, after birth, to enable him to participate in and contribute positively towards the attainment of the ideals of a civil Malaysian society
Signed by
Dr Hajah Noor Khatijah Nurani
President, Malaysian Paediatric Association
Professor Dr Thong Meow Keong
President, College of Paediatrics, Academy of Medicine of Malaysia

  arrowMsian Paeds Assoc & College of Paeds PRESS RELEASE.pdf (English - pdf - 100 Kb)   

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