Open letter to the government of Malaysia for the protection of the rights of children and sexual minorities.
Ministry of Education
cc. Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairperson, SUHAKAM
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) writes to you today to express our grave concerns over the Terengganu Education Department’s decision to send 66 Muslim schoolboys with effeminate tendencies to a boot camp. Selected schoolboys have been sent to attend a “self-development course” which includes physical education and religious classes conducted by motivational speakers. We are deeply disturbed by this discriminatory action of the Terengganu Education Department against boys who behave effeminately.
We believe that the said action is a clear violation of the Child Act (Act 611), which was enacted in 2001 to fulfill the Malaysian government’s obligation to protect the rights of the child. The preamble of the Child Act provides that “every child is entitled to protection and assistance in all circumstances without regard to distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or physical, mental or emotional disabilities or any status”. It also infringes the principle of non-discrimination in Article 8 of the federal constitution of Malaysia.
We would like to point out that the said action by the Terengganu Education Department, which seeks to regulate a specific tendency of the children, is against the basic tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 2 of the CRC stipulates that the government must ensure that “the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions”.
As Malaysia ratified the CRC in 1995, your government is obligated to uphold its commitment to the protection and welfare of children without exception.
In 2007, the Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed out that there were “insufficient efforts made to address discrimination based on sexual orientation” in Malaysia. The UN Human Rights Council also recommended the Malaysian government to de-penalize homosexuality during the Universal Periodic Review of Malaysian 2009.
To our regret, however, the Malaysian government is yet to demonstrate any meaningful effort to stop discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Furthermore, we are extremely appalled that the discrimination has in fact been practised by the educational agency of the government.
In addition, we are gravely concerned that the 66 children were singled out by their school teachers for displaying effeminate mannerisms.
Schools should provide a safe environment for all children, regardless of their personalities and tendencies. We strongly advise that all professional groups working with children (especially teachers and civil servants) to undertake regular education and training on protection of the children’s rights, especially with regards to the provisions of the CRC.
Forum-Asia strongly urges the Ministry of Education:
- To respect human rights of all individuals, including children and sexual minorities without discrimination on any ground,
- To ensure that all schools provides a safe and fair environment for all children without regard to distinction of any kind,
- To withdraw all reservations on the CRC and amend all domestic laws in compliance with the CRC and international human rights standards and
- To intervene and immediately stop the boot camp programme for the effeminate school children; and to ensure the discriminatory action of such kind does not appear again.
Yap Swee Seng is executive director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)