MP SPEAKS | The best Merdeka gift we can give our children is to defend and uphold their rights as children, to be granted citizenship, to live the life of a child, the right to education, healthcare and nutrition, and be protected by love in this Malaysia Baru.
After 60 years, Malaysians from all walks of life, gender, race, religion and age will celebrate its 61st Merdeka Day celebrations under a brand new Malaysia. And this year, I would like to dedicate this historical Merdeka celebration to the children of Malaysia.
The nation was rocked this June when news of an 11-year-old girl was “married” off to a 41 year old man became viral on social media. The girl is from Thailand and the man, from Gua Musang, Kelantan.
Following that, there has been extensive media coverage of children being victims of trafficking, sexual violence, rape, incest and above all to be married off as a child bride or a child groom.
To date, we are facing hundreds of thousands of stateless children who had been born out of wedlock, born to refugees, children who grow up on the streets, and even children in foster homes - all of whom will eventually grow up to be stateless adults.
Stateless children are often subjected to bureaucratic nonsense which will deny them the right to education (in spite of provisions in the law allowing them to do so), healthcare as well as the right to be protected from any form of harm and danger, such as being forcefully married off at a young age.
Little and large Napoleons continue to dictate whether a child is allowed or not to attend school, according to their whims and fancies and abusing their power, which was a culture that had been inbred by the previous Barisan Nasional regime.
Therefore, any attempt to toy with the future of these children must be blocked with immediate and urgent action.
For this reason, I call on the Home Ministry to grant citizenship to children in foster homes when they reach the age of four. And if they have not been adopted, to facilitate the process of them stepping into school life with no hiccups, hindrance and obstacles to obtain education like any other child born in Malaysia.
In the same breath, all pending citizenship approvals for children must be expedited in the shortest time to prevent them from feeling unwanted in their own country.
As far as child marriage is concerned, even with legislative reforms in the civil law through the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, Islamic Family Law Enactments of the States for Muslims in the Syariah courts and native customary laws used in Sabah and Sarawak, criminalising child marriages and penalising parents who give consent to their children getting married will not help prevent child marriages if there is no concerted effort and participation from members of society.
Education, engagement and awareness on why we, as Malaysians, must work hand in hand and in harmony with the government to put an end to child marriages will be the secret to a roaring success to first decrease the number of child marriages and ultimately end it once and for all.
Therefore I call for a moratorium on all applications of marriages through these three legal provisions, until the needed and necessary amendments to the law on fixing 18 as the minimum age of marriage with no exception is tabled, debated and passed in the Dewan Rakyat and in individual state Syariah and customary bodies to seek for an amendment to existing laws.
I sincerely appreciate and applaud the comment made by Ismail Yahya, former Terengganu Chief Syariah judge calling for the minimum age for Muslims to marry to be fixed at 18.
The new Malaysia under Pakatan Harapan remains steadfast and committed to uphold, defend and promote the rights of children by putting the children’s agenda in the spotlight as Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is therefore bound dutifully and morally to do all that it can to be defenders of the right of children.
While there are many pressing issues surrounding the growth of a child in Malaysia, the fundamental dilemma and quandary is on citizenship which will at least guarantee that the child can reap the joys of education, access to affordable healthcare, access to nutritional food as well as protecting and safeguarding them.
What kind of message will we send to our children when we place their interest first above all matters?
That we, as a Government, as leaders, community chiefs and society at large take matters concerning children seriously and will work to ensure that no child is left behind.
That we as a nation, bestow and confer a Merdeka for our children, smashing any shackles that bind, oppress and strip away their rights as children who need and deserve protection, care and love in our Malaysia Baru.
The best Merdeka gift we can give our children is to defend and uphold their rights as children, to be granted citizenship, the right to education, healthcare and nutrition surrounded by love in this Malaysia Baru.
KASTHURI PATTO is the Batu Kawan MP and Wanita DAP Publicity Secretary.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.