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Children should have freedom to assemble peacefully too, says Ramkarpal

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Children should also be accorded their right to freedom of expression through peaceful assembly under the Federal Constitution, Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said.

This comes after Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching confirmed that no action would be taken against the 11 students of SJK(T) Sungai Ara in Penang who participated in a climate crisis protest.

"The children ought not to have been discouraged from expressing their views on a valid issue, even if those views are to the detriment of the government of the day.

"I am aware that the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 prohibits the participation of those under the age of 15 in assemblies, other than in a few categories specified in the Second Schedule of the said Act.

"However, I feel such a prohibition is unconstitutional as it is clearly contrary to the right of freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed under our Federal Constitution, freedoms which apply to all irrespective of age," Ramkarpal said in a statement today.

Even though such freedoms are not absolute, he said disallowing children to freely express themselves would be "discriminatory" and in contravention of the right of equality under the constitution.

He said he agreed with Voice of the Children (VOC) chairperson Sharmila Sekaran that children should not be discouraged from expressing their views peacefully and in public assemblies.

"Intervention of the state in such matters will only instil fear in children, which may lead them to express themselves in other unhealthy ways.

"We should engage with children and rationally persuade them to accept our views on issues after meaningful debates, not by creating a fear in them that they may be investigated for expressing their views," he said.

Ramkarpal also hopes that SJK(T) Sungai Ara, which has been active in raising awareness on environmental issues, will not be deterred by this incident.

He also said that there is no evidence that the 11 children were being exploited by a third party.

Exploitation and freedom of expression of children are different, he added.

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