PETALING JAYA: Government leaders have been urged to provide children with better protection by changing national policies, especially on child marriages and sexual abuse.
Speaking out in conjunction with International Day of the Girl Child, child rights activists Ananthi Rajasingham and Madeleine Yong say stricter laws are necessary to prevent further sexual abuse among children, particularly girls.
Ananthi stressed the importance of addressing the issue of child marriage, saying the government “should not create justice based on religion.”
“This is based on past examples where children, girls, below the age of 18 are married off to older men, some who are religious authorities themselves, in the name of protecting the girl child. This act should be shamed and not accepted in any level of society,” she told FMT, adding that all girls must be highly protected, regardless of background.
She also said girls should be taught techniques to protect themselves such as the concept of “safe touch,” or martial arts.
Ananthi, who runs the Yayasan Chow Kit movement, added that the government’s statistics on child marriages were not reliable and that the issue needed to gain more media attention.
Madeleine Yong, founder of the Protect and Save The Children (PS The Children) organisation, estimated that around one in four children in the country were sexually abused. She said she used to receive calls on child abuse cases every day.
She said the government needed to do a prevalence study to see if the figures had gone up in recent times, especially since online sexual exploitation has become more rampant.
Madeleine, who is also the co-founder of children’s therapy centre Power of Play, suggested that “preventive programmes” be made compulsory in schools so children could understand how to protect themselves against violence.
“It can also be a compulsory subject in colleges, so students, whether they go on to be lawyers, teachers or businessmen, will be more equipped on knowledge about child protection.”
Apart from coming up with better policies to protect children, she urged the relevant authorities to ensure child protection laws were properly implemented on the field.
“This is very crucial. All the NGOs have said the same thing in the last 10 years. If they focus on implementation, then there will be a better future for children.”