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Rights of children must be upheld

July 3, 2013

The government must grow a political spine to ensure the rights of children are upheld and not infringed upon.

COMMENT

By Charles Santiago

It’s almost seems like a joke. I am referring to what ruling party leaders spew out, except that their words send a shiver down my spine and have major repercussions on our society.

A Barisan Nasional lawmaker, Bung Mokhtar Radin, has asked AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman Rani to migrate. And all Rani did was to criticize the Malay daily, Utusan Malaysia, over its racial editorials.

In another attack against AirAsia, a BN MP has raised the issue of the low-cost carrier reviewing the length of its cabin crew’s skirt.

It really amuses me that lawmakers are debating frivolous issues, especially when there is a nationwide uproar against the government’s efforts to push through the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act Amendment Bill 2013 that seeks to ensure that permission from just one parent is enough to convert a child to Islam.

This strips children off their inherent right to choose their religion when they reach 18 years of age.

This Bill has received condemnation even from BN’s component parties, with one political party threatening to take the government to court.

Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 to uphold its commitment to the protection and welfare of her children. Although this was a major step for the country, its ratification contained a number of ‘reservations’ to the provisions of the CRC.

These reservations were put in place since there were discrepancies between these CRC articles and some national and Syariah laws.

Malaysia submitted its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006, and in return the Committee submitted its Concluding Observations to Malaysia in 2007.

One of its crucial observations was that Malaysia reviews its dual legal system, the civil and syariah laws, as some domestic laws are obstacles to the full realization of the CRC in the country.

Six years later, we are faced with BN discreetly trying to ram the Bill down our throats, with even its coalition partners left in the dark.

If Malaysia was trying to show it is serious when it ratified the CRC, then the state should protect the rights of children and not force conversion issues on them.

It does not take a brilliant mind to figure out that the Bill, if passed, would give an advantage to one partner who simply has to convert to Islam to gain custody of the children.

I know we have heard many arguments against the Bill, which are linked to the encroachment on the rights of non-Muslims and alienating the non-Muslims even further.

But more importantly we should not forget that this issue concerns children who would be subjected to the whims and fancy of one parent, whereby taking away their freedom of choice.

As such, ratifying the CRC is not enough. The government must grow a political spine to ensure the rights of children are upheld and not infringed upon. And in this case, ensure that religion and the ego of parents do not crush those rights.

Charles Santiago is DAP’s MP for Klang


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