Remarks by UNICEF Representative to Malaysia at the opening of the Child Protection Conference
By Wivina Belmonte
UNICEF Representative, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, 20 November 2012
Representative from Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development Malaysia,
Members of the media,
Local representatives from the Ministry, Social Welfare and civil society organisations,
Ladies and gentlemen.
I'd like to share two ideas with you this morning: one on child protection, the other on something I've come to call constructive impatience.
Three weeks ago, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development organised a child protection conference. Today, we gather again, for another child protection conference. This doesn't mean we are repeating ourselves, it does reflect the many/urgent needs on child protection -- in this country, and in the region.
In preparation of this keynote address, I'll admit, I did ask myself – what we can say that's new? What can we say that we didn't say 3 weeks ago?? And that reflects a state of mind, that I expect will sound familiar to you.
I think many of us in child protection share that sense of impatience. We want things to move faster than they do, because we know that each statistic represents the life of a child. Whether it's abuse, bullying (on the internet, or elsewhere), children living on the streets, children without birth registration or children living with HIV and AIDS, we are impatient because we want to do more, and we want to do it faster because we are doing it for children. And we're impatient not because we're thinking about the statistics, but because we're thinking of actual children – one by one, falling through the cracks.
However impatient we may get, we also know the importance of thoughtfully laying the foundation for long-term strategy and execution. Things don't happen overnight in child protection, or in child rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child took 10 long years of studied negotiation, before becoming the most widely ratified human rights instrument in the world.
Good results sometimes require long-term planning, and a good deal of endurance, insistence and constructive impatience.
We know this, but we're impatient anyway. To satisfy our impatient minds, let me tell you about two significant milestones for children that have happened in Malaysia in the past three weeks.
One…was the launch of the Mousedeer Organization for Children's Rights. This is a child-led, child rights organisation. In its first iteration a year ago, it was an advisory group of six children -- a fledgling online community -- aimed at spreading awareness on children's rights. Today, almost 200 children are involved, as peer mentors, supporters and champions of children's issues and rights in Malaysia.
The children of the Mousedeer Group, with support from the NGO Knowing Children, have been involved in something historic for Malaysia – compiling a children's report for the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. It is the FIRST time that children in Malaysia are submitting such a report, expressing their views on their rights, in their voice.
It will supplement the report the Government is putting together.
The other event took place a week ago today, on International Human Rights Day, another group launched another report, a version of which will also be submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child – The Status Report on Children's Rights in Malaysia. It is the first of a yearly series, highlighting the status of child rights in Malaysia, using the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the benchmark. The Status Report on Children's Rights in Malaysia summarises the key findings of two years of research. Ten of the NGOs involved in preparing the Status Report used the occasion to announce the creation of the Child Rights Coalition of Malaysia -- a significant step for child rights in this country.
One event with 2 important milestones for children AND for civil society in Malaysia.
So, it is important to balance our impatience by acknowledging our progress. And reminding ourselves of the victories as well as the struggles.
In that spirit, let me also add an important note from earlier this year, when the Malaysian Government ratified the CRC's two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
Over the next two days, we will be hearing from a multitude of stakeholders in child protection from across the region. Amongst the distinguished speakers and participants we have here are well known advocates for child rights from civil society organisations, the corporate sector, academia and more. We will hear about the successes and the remaining challenges. We will learn from one another and discuss areas where we might work together. And we'll talk about potential partnerships and of potential gains for children not only in Malaysia but across the region.
Through this conference, we seek to establish a more compelling, evidence-based investment case for child protection; reaching new audiences, expanding our advocacy; and strengthening areas of strategic collaboration with governments, partner NGOs, foundations, the private sector, and faith-based coalitions, to advocate and implement child protection services.
Our work is urgent. And this is where the urgency in our impatience serves us -- AND IS constructive. Available evidence suggests that child maltreatment is still a problem in all countries in this region. A report released this summer by UNICEF's office for East Asia and the Pacific, shows children in every country are affected…although the frequency of physical abuse of children varies from country to country. In some cases abuse affects 1 in 10 children, in others, as many as 30 per cent. As the report cites, the damage to children caused by sexual and physical abuse is serious and leaves scars that last a lifetime.
There is an urgent need for a common regional architecture to support best practice interventions and sharing of experiences for problems that are common to us, across the region. That's why we are here today. The beginning of a foundation for this has already been laid by ASEAN's Senior Officials Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (SOMSWD) and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). Both sectoral bodies have identified violence against children and child protection systems as focus areas within their respective work plans.
Along with a regional architecture, there is the need for a systems approach – one that integrates the actions of families, children themselves, communities, formal and informal structures, state and non-state actors across all sectors, to work together to protect children. One that looks at all the actions needed to protect children along a continuum, from promotion of a safe environment for the child, to prevention – through response and restorative services for children at risk of, or experiencing, violence, exploitation and maltreatment. The key – and the challenge – is having a linked and coherent set of structures, functions and capacities to meet the goals of child protection.
While government plays a prominent role and is the primary duty bearer, the less formal aspects of the system at the local and community levels, involving NGOs and other stakeholders are just as important. The diverse factors that lead to the risk of abuse could be addressed more easily, and possibly simultaneously, if different actors worked more closely together. And crucially, working together helps increase the speed and efficiency of our response. In child protection, that can make a life-or-death difference.
In order to develop better multi-sectoral cooperation, all actors need to have a common understanding of child protection. Time and resources are needed to provide the space for open discussion about child protection /--/ and what can and should be done to prevent and respond to violence, abuse, exploitation // and the neglect of children. Many professionals with a statutory responsibility for child protection, such as health workers, police and judicial officers, need this understanding. So do parents, caregivers and the general public.
In addition, it is crucial for us to include children in our planning and decision making. The best possible spokespeople for children are children themselves. They are powerful advocates and are worth engaging – not only because it's their right, but because it makes sense, since they are key stakeholders. AND because experience has shown us, time and again that, when children are given an honest chance to speak and a safe platform to be listened to, they are the most eloquent, passionate speakers on issues that affect their daily lives.
That voice, that experience, that information is essential to us if we want to draft effective policy and protection systems.
So ladies and gentlemen, our work is cut out for us.
I would like to thank Protect and Save The Children for organising this conference // as a platform for us all to share our expertise and experience // as a step towards advancing child protection in Malaysia and in the region.
And -- as a way of making our impatience more constructive.
For further information, please contact:
Indra Kumari Nadchatram,
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
(+6.03) 2095 9157
+6012 292 6872
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
(+6.03) 2095 9154 ext. 2236
+6012 658 5160