Children of Malaysia
Realizing Children’s Rights in Malaysia
The Malaysian government presents an image of a country where different ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony, but the reality is quite different. Children of ethnic and religious minorities face many obstacles, and children’s rights in general are also not fully respected.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index : 7,73 / 10
Population: 29,95 million
Life expectancy: 75 years
Main problems faced by children in Malaysia:
Many children in Malaysia suffer from poverty. Although the country has made significant efforts to improve the situation, UNICEF estimates that more than 72,000 children under the age of 15 still live in difficult conditions without the means to fulfill their own basic needs.
The organization is working with the country’s leadership to combat poverty and the consequences it has on the lives of children.
Education in Malaysia is mandatory for children between 6 and 11 years old, and public schools are free. Lessons are taught mainly in Malay and English. It’s also common to have lessons in Chinese or Tamil.
About 90% of children attend school, but there are huge disparities between rural and urban regions. Children in rural areas (mostly indigenous children) often do not attend school. And less than a quarter of that 90% finishes junior high.
Also, it is deplorable that non-citizens must pay extra fees in order to send their children to school.
Finally, girls are sometimes deprived of their right to an education purely for cultural reasons. Fortunately, educational policies are improving this situation and gender equality in general.
Malaysian authorities forbid children of immigrant or asylum-seeking parents to be registered. Some asylum seekers even risk being arrested as illegal immigrants if they try to register their children.
In addition, marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims are not officially recognized. Parents in such a union also have difficulty registering their children.
Without a birth certificate, children are stateless, and they are forbidden from enrolling in school. Their rights to an identity and to an education are violated.
Discrimination towards children of ethnic minorities
Malaysia’s population is comprised of three main ethnicities: 60% Malays, 25% Chinese, and 10% Indians.
Several years ago, Malaysian authorities developed a program of ethnic discrimination which favored Malays. The State feared that ethnic minorities would hinder unification of the country, so they tried to give Malays better opportunities to the detriment of the minority population.
These policies have prevented children of Chinese, Indian, and other minority descents from accessing the same services as Malay children, particularly education.
Discrimination towards children of religious minorities
Islam is the State religion of Malaysia, and 60% of Malaysians are Muslim. Although religious minorities are not persecuted, they are still discriminated against. Freedom of religion exists in theory, but, because of Malaysia’s radicalization, not in practice. As an example, Malaysian authorities have confiscated Christian children’s books claiming that illustrations of the prophets Moses and Abraham violate Islamic law (Sharia).
Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and other religious groups feel more and more targeted in Malaysia as their right to freely practice their religion becomes more constrained.
Discrimination towards girls
There is not always sexual equality in Malaysia, and girls are not cared for in the same way as boys. Still, significant strides forward have been made in education for girls.
Female genital mutilations, also known as feminine circumcision, are common practices among Malaysian Muslims. The procedures are normally carried out by doctors or midwives when infant girls are several months old.
Although these genital mutilations are conducted in more hygienic conditions than in some African countries, they still pose a major threat to girls’ lives and overall health. Feminine circumcision continues, passed by cultural tradition from one generation to the next, in spite of its cruelty and the intense pain experienced by girls.
According to the Islamic religion, the minimum age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. Muslims younger than 16 years of age must seek permission of a religious tribunal in order to marry.
Every Muslim wishing to marry must undergo a mandatory premarital HIV/AIDS screening. The government uses these screenings to register most children who wish to be married. However, it seems that the rules of the religious tribunals are becoming more strict, and they are giving permission for child marriages less frequently than in previous years.
The country is currently debating the issue of child marriage after the public celebration of a young girl of 14 to a teacher of 23 in December 2010. The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has released a statement calling the marriage of minors both morally and socially unacceptable.
The rate of HIV/AIDS infection is rising in Malaysia despite some prevention efforts, as the existing resources are not sufficient to combat all the problems.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern for the growing number of AIDS orphans and encourages the country to organize protection programs to provide aid.
It would also be beneficial to establish national programs to raise awareness among the population on existing methods of protection from the virus. Unfortunately, AIDS is still a culturally sensitive subject in Malaysia, which precludes effective information on prevention for both adults and children from being disseminated.
Torture is not illegal in Malaysia. Criminal law actually allows caning or whipping as a supplementary punishment to a prison sentence. This punishment is commonly practiced on adult men and boys as young as ten years old, even if they have committed non-violent crimes. Boys usually receive ten lashes with a light switch. In certain states, though, women and girls are exempt from these practices.
Death Penalty for Children
The death penaltys unfortunately allowed against children in this country, which contradicts their right to life. However, the Constitution only allows this punishment to be used for children who have committed certain types of crimes, mostly acts that pose a threat to national security. These crimes include using firearms, ammunition, or explosives; disrupting internal security or the public order; and terrorism. The death penalty has also not been used for minors in several years.
Life imprisonment is an alternative sentence for all crimes where the death penalty cannot be applied against children.
In principle, children under 14 years of age cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment. However, this clause is voided if they are associated with people who possess firearms or explosives, who disrupt internal security or the public order, or who are linked to terrorist acts.
Sexual exploitation of children is common in rural regions. Children who live or work in the streets are often victims of this practice. Malaysia is a destination country for many women and girls from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Mongolia, or China. They immigrate with the hope of finding honest work or a better life, but most of them are forced into prostitution.
Child trafficking is also common in this country, supporting the sexual exploitation of children for commercial means.
Children who prostitute themselves are usually seen as delinquents or illegal immigrants and not for what they truly are: victims.
Children in Malaysia are frequently sexually abused within their own families, which is known as incest.
Incest carries a punishment of 6-20 years imprisonment and caning. However, children’s testimonies are only accepted if corroborating proof exists. Most times, the abused child is the only witness to the crime.
It is illegal for children under the age of 14 to work, but they are permitted to contribute to family businesses. It is also legal for children to work in entertainment, for the government, in schools, or as apprentices.
In all cases, a child may not work more than six hours per day, more than six days per week, or during the night. However, these restrictions are still too permissive, and contradict the child’s best interests.
In the state of Sabah, about 15,000 children are born to illegal immigrants and live in the streets. These children are not citizens as they are not officially recorded in birth registers.
They have no governmental support and often fall victim to trafficking. They are also forced to prostitute themselves, participate in criminal activities, or to labor in order to fulfill their own needs.
Refugee children and their families find themselves in a similar situation to street children. They are not welcomed into the country and are not given any protection or access to education. They often fall victim to trafficking and slavery.
Malaysia has not ratified the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its Protocol, and does not have a system in place for legal protection. Refugees can thus be deported and sent back to their home country, even if that puts their lives in danger.