Launch of Reports on Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System in Malaysia
Salam sejahtera and a very warm welcome to everyone.
I'd like to begin my remarks today by putting the launch of these 2 publications into context…
The timing of this launch is important…Why?
Well, for one, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The timing is also important since Malaysia is currently, actively, involved in drafting its 11th Malaysia Plan -- charting the course for its development from 2016-2020…key years as it comes closer and closer to the timeline its set for itself -- to becoming a fully developed, high income, nation.
I add this context because child protection and the country’s development agenda are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, we fundamentally believe, issues of child protection are closely woven into the fabric of robust economies. As such we belive child protection is an important element that Malaysia needs to continue to prioritise, as it drafts its 11th Malaysia Plan.
Now you could say that -- as an organization whose mission it is to advocate for child rights, its natural for UNICEF to be making this argument. And you’d be right. Which is why it is all the more important for us to provide evidence and justification on why investment in child protection systems should be prioritised. And that's why the publication of these reports is so critical at this time, they are an important step to providing a clearer understanding of the evidence, justification and return on investment, of child protection systems.
With so many advocates for children present here, we’re in good company today, and we all agree that “child protection” is essential to ensure that children grow up happy, healthy and safe.
We know children face a multitude of risks and there is no single person or institution that can be held responsible for protecting all children from all risks. What these publications show, is why a multi- sectoral, multi-agency approach is the only way to widen the base while ensuring that families and children do not slip through the cracks.
This is in line with the growing recognition in Malaysia that children’s issues should be addressed holistically by creating a preventive and protective environment, in which a coordinated response is provided by all the relevant ministries and departments, supported by NGOs as service providers.
It is important to highlight that Malaysia’s child protection system already has a lot going for it, including heightened public awareness of child abuse, a framework to enable the training and development of professionals across the various agencies, as well as an emergency response system and hospital-based provisions for child survivors.
It is also encouraging that the work of building stronger systems, continue.
Since ratifying the CRC in 1995, Malaysia has proven its commitment to children’s rights -- in its policy, legislative developments and service delivery. In this sense, protecting children is everyone’s job, starting from the very highest levels of government, down to local authorities closer to the frontline, to communities and individual families and households.
I'd like to raise another aspect of child protection…
The protection of children also includes the protection of children who have come into conflict with the law. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children who have come into conflict with the law also have the right to receive legal aid and fair treatment. A rights- based approach is crucial when dealing with children within the justice system as it is the only way to ensure that children are given opportunities to turn their lives around.
Fundamental to the concept of juvenile justice is the distinction between “criminal” and “criminal behaviour”.
Every time children come into conflict with the law, they arrive at a crossroads. Each crossroad is an opportunity to change the direction taken by the child. In the right environment, with the right guidance and the right approach, children who come in conflict with the law can be supported towards a life that fulfils his or her potential and re-integration into society.
The Government of Malaysia has recognised that a comprehensive juvenile justice system is key to capitalising on these opportunities. How children are handled in the justice system – from arrest to detention, sentencing and rehabilitation – can have a profound impact on their future, and may determine whether they grow up to become productive citizens or fall into a life of crime.
It is promising that many stakeholders in Malaysia – many of you, here -- have highlighted the need to move towards internationally recognised practices such as diversion, such as community- based supervision, particularly for children committing minor offences. This is in line with the principle that detention should only be a measure of last resort and for limited periods of time.
In that spirit, we are particularly satisfied and proud that the reports being launched today provide specific recommendations for Malaysia to undertake a holistic reform of the juvenile justice system.
Let me turn now to another consideration. DATA.
Collecting data is a fundamental part of UNICEF’s work...to know what needs to be done, we need to have an educated understanding of the situation, as it is.
In that sense, these comprehensive assessments of the child protection and juvenile justice systems -- the first of their kind in Malaysia -- are invaluable.
Let me close with the most powerful of elements included in these reports.
The reports remind us that children’s voices must be heard in all issues concerning their rights and welfare. Child participation -- authentic child participation -- must be meaningfully embraced within our programs and initiatives.
When we read what the children said in these reports, and when we really listen to their experiences, fears, hopes and ideas, we discover a wealth of critical information, vital to us, if we really want to create more effective systems for them.
In closing, I’d like to thank the many people who have made these reports possible. But most of all, I’d especially like to thank the children and young people who opened themselves up, and courageously shared their views and experiences with us.
Let us honor their courage by ensuring their voices are heard, and that their concerns are placed at the heart of all our efforts as child rights advocates, carers, policy makers and service providers.
Thank you for being here today.