COMMENT | Deputy Minister for Women, Family and Community Development Hannah Yeoh made an important policy intention regarding the key issue of safeguarding children, that is, the screening of those who work with children.
For far too long, those unsuitable and those deemed ‘undesirable’ have been allowed to destroy young lives, through a combination of general apathy on the part of adults and a lack of diligence by some children-affiliated agencies such as schools, care centres and orphanages.
Citing the high recorded cases of child abuse in the country - at more than 20,000 in the last five years - Yeoh rightly advised parents to exercise greater monitoring, to give them education on sex and care, and promised to provide greater support and counselling for victims.
Therefore, will focused attention and encouragement of parents and caregivers, with the strengthening of counselling resources at schools as well as widespread information about the Talian Kasih helpline be enough? Prevention efforts, access to the helpline and a post-trauma rescue service are a good start.
I hope the ‘work in progress’, as Yeoh (photo) stated, will spell out the message that child protection is the responsibility of all. It is not only the government alone but everyone! Sure, the government must show the lead, and must allocate resources to underpin its importance, but all sections in society must also act in support.
To start with, the government needs to get all the statutory key agencies to act together and to develop a joint policy with the sole objective of safeguarding and protecting children. Unlike the sexual offenders' registry, which has list of those convicted of a criminal offence, this process of eliminating those unsuitable is a ‘vetting and barring’ scheme. The UK government does operate a scheme for this purpose and their own development and experience can be shared and adapted to the Malaysian context.
In my experience, the existence of a similar type of registry rests on the principles of civil law and the evidence sought is not along the desirability as with criminal law, which seeks a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ conviction. Rather it is loosely based on employment law, where evidence gathered is based around the ‘balance of probabilities’.
In the UK, there was a registry maintained by the Education Ministry of teachers who had been dismissed for gross misconduct (not criminally convicted) or medical/para-medical staff dismissed for professional misconduct. Details of such individuals would be stored in a register. All employing authorities (Education, Social Care and Health) would check with those lists prior to recruiting staff.
With such a safety-cum-screening resource in place, it would be ‘reassuring’ to the public that service providers to children comply with this requirement. The ministry in Malaysia must proceed to set up such a register as a way of screening.
To further extend and continue the quality assurance of the establishments concerned, the registration of a service provider, e.g. a nursery (taska, tadika), children’s home (orphanage), all public and private schools and tahfiz schools, must be mandatory.
Unless establishments are subjected to checks and inspections, they should not be allowed a licence to operate. The registration requirements, therefore, must be strengthened and rigorously enforced and perhaps, as a sweetener to encourage good practice, tax incentives could be offered in return for strict compliance to those accepted standards.
I am sure many will look forward to an announcement on further details or an implementation timetable.
JIM LIM is a former director of Social Services in a London borough and a former CEO of a charity. He is retired and living in his beloved Penang. He is a member of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.