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Dear child with special needs

To all children in Malaysia with special physical, intellectual and social needs:

You were born into this world just like any other child, needing love and protection. But even as you took your first breath outside of your mother’s womb, you had no idea that you would grow up to be misunderstood and shunned by society.

While the Government has ensured that your basic needs are met so that you will not starve or be abandoned on the streets, they cannot work alone to protect you from the stigma of discrimination. While the Government can legislate that you will receive education, healthcare and shelter, they cannot work alone to legislate people’s beliefs and prejudices against you.

Yet you do not deserve to be treated with discrimination. Whether it was God’s will or a genetic anomaly that made you different from other children, you are still a child with possibilities and potential. With your unique abilities and capacities, you embody the promise of our future.

I am not saying that children with special needs deserve special rights. But you do deserve fair treatment, as well as special care and support to help you live full and independent lives. You deserve to live with dignity, develop self-reliance and be empowered to become an active member of your community.

These are not privileges granted to you at whim, but your birthrights. You may not be able to walk, but you have the right to explore the world. You may not be able to hear or speak, but you have the right to form opinions and be heard. You may not be able to see, but you have the right to know these words I am writing to you.

These rights have been laid out in two legally-binding international documents: the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Government has signed these documents and affirmed their promise to uphold and advance the rights of all children in Malaysia, including the right to non-discrimination and equal opportunities for children with disabilities.

This promise protects you as well as every other child in Malaysia – including the Penan child who lives deep in the forest interior of Sarawak, the Orang Asli child who has inherited the nomadic traditions of his indigenous ancestors, and the child born to migrant parents who has no proof of birth or citizenship.

The Government in Malaysia has made tremendous advancements in meeting children’s basic needs, investing financial and human resources to ensure that you have healthcare, education and a safe childhood.

But as Universal Children’s Day dawns on 20 November, it is a reminder to us that more has to be done to strengthen the protective environment for you, the child with special needs.

More has to be done to ensure that schools have suitable facilities, an inclusive curriculum and teachers to give you quality education.

That your families do not have to struggle financially to get you medical and healthcare.

That your friends can play with you and embrace you for your differences.

That future employers will look beyond your disabilities and hire you for your abilities.

That national policies will be developed with your best interests at heart.

The Government has acknowledged your needs in the Ninth Malaysia Plan and given you a special focus in the Mid-Term Review, renewing their commitment to enhance and increase educational opportunities for children with special needs.

As the guardian of children’s rights, UNICEF is committed to transforming children’s lives and we will spare no efforts in building a world fit for you. Through our programs and advocacy efforts, we will work alongside the Government and focus the spotlight on children like you.

We are the past, but you are the present and the future. We have merely borrowed the world from you and it is our duty to make it a safer and better place for you. This is my promise to you, my child with special needs.

Ever committed to protecting your rights,
Youssouf Oomar


Youssouf Oomar is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative to Malaysia. UNICEF has been working in Malaysia since 1954 to champion the rights and needs of every child in Malaysia. Email him at: kualalumpur@unicef.org

* This letter was published by the New Sunday Times on 16 November in celebration of Universal Children's Day 2008

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Universal Children’s Day
Universal Children’s Day was established on 20 November 1989 to mark the day on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.  Through a day dedicated to celebrating the welfare of children, Universal Children’s Day aims to raise awareness of children's rights worldwide, awareness of their situation in life, problems, wishes, needs and longings as well as to enable exchanges and meetings between them.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that was created to protect the most basic rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years. These rights include the right to : an identity and nationality; healthcare; education; shelter; safety and special protection in times of war. In 41 substantive articles, the CRC establishes in international law that States Parties must ensure that all children – without discrimination in any form – benefit from special protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding; and are informed about and participate in, achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner. The CRC is the first ever human rights treaty which grants a role in its implementation to a specialised United Nations agency, in this case UNICEF. UNICEF promotes the principles and provisions of the CRC and the mainstreaming of children's rights in a systematic manner, in its advocacy, programming, monitoring and evaluation activities. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by the Government of Malaysia in 1995. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org/crc

Children with Disabilities and their Rights
Article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is dedicated specially to the rights of children living with disabilities. Article 23 states that children who have any kind of disability have the right to special care and support, as well as all the rights in the CRC, so that they can live full and independent lives. In 2007, a new treaty to ensure the human rights of an estimated 650 million people in the world with disabilities opened for signature on March 30 during a special session of the United Nations General Assembly.  Eighty-one countries participated in the signing of the new United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Government of Malaysia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

 

 
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