Unconstitutional to bar children from peaceful assemblies, says MP

The 11 schoolchildren participating in a protest against climate change in Penang last week. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: An MP has welcomed the education ministry’s confirmation that no action will be taken against 11 primary school students for participating in a climate change protest, saying it is unconstitutional to bar those under 15 from participating in assemblies under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA).

The 11 students of SJK (T) Sg Ara in Penang had participated in a protest against climate change and the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) at a Ramadan bazaar in Bayan Baru last week.

Following the protest, Penang Island City Council member Vino Dini Chandragason accused environmental groups of exploiting underage children, saying this goes against the Child Act 2001.

Vino also urged the police to look into the protest and check if it was held legally and with the relevant permits.

Vino Dini Chandragason.

But Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said there was no evidence that the children had been exploited in any way, adding that exploitation and children’s freedom of expression are separate matters.

He acknowledged that the PAA prohibits those under 15 from participating in assemblies but said this runs contrary to the freedoms guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, which apply to all citizens irrespective of age.

“Intervention of the state in such matters will only instil a fear in children which may lead them to express themselves in other unhealthy ways,” he said in a statement.

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

He added that children should not be discouraged from expressing their views on issues, even if they are detrimental to the government of the day.

The PTMP is an RM46 billion plan to build highways, rail lines and other modes of public transport over the next 20 to 30 years.

It will be financed by auctioning the 4,500 acres (1,821 hectares) on three yet-to-be-reclaimed islands.