June 18, 2010

Our precious gems

THE United Nations Children’s Fund or Unicef champions the protection of children’s rights by drawing on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its paramount challenge is to continue on the achieved progress in which they strengthen their outreach to children who are still being denied their rights to survival, development, education, gender equality protection and participation.Although the Convention has been in existence for more than 20 years, Unicef reported that children’s welfare is far from assured. Worldwide, millions of children are further deprived of food, shelter as well as clean water and are prone to be affected by diseases such as pneumonia, malaria and measles. They also lack protection against violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination and neglect. Despite the fact that fewer children are dying and more are entering schools, I am sure the staggering number does not sit well with most of us.

We don’t have to look far and beyond to realise our children are under-protected. Take for example, what is happening in our own backyard of late.

Children have been making headlines in newspapers and on televisions. A local newspaper highlighted the poverty-stricken family of 11-year-old Angela. The innocent-looking image of this cherub got me thinking constantly about her unfortunate life. Then there was news about a dead baby found floating at Stutong community market as well as little K Hareswarra and Syafiah Humairah Sahari who both died due to injuries allegedly caused by abusive caretakers. These heart-wrenching stories made me all misty-eyed and emotional.

And who could forget the recent attack that took place in Muar, where kindergarten children were mercilessly and physically assaulted by a man suspected to be of unsound mind? Not so long ago, the country was rudely awakened by the news of missing Sharlinie Mohd Nashar and Nurin Jazlin Jazimin. The former has been missing since 2007.

What has become of our society? Why, despite urbanisation and progress taking place all over this world, are children still underprivileged and not safe from these predators that make us sick to the stomach?

Each and every one of us can play our roles to make a difference in the lives of our children. Here in our state, different measures are being taken to ensure the well-being of our children.

Under the 10th Malaysia Plan, our state will embark on a ‘zero squatter’ target where existing squatters will be moved into decent housing areas. Affordable homes will be built not only for the hardcore poor but also for low and medium income earners. This is one of the steps taken to shelter our destitute and disadvantaged children. Providing comfortable living conditions would hopefully encourage the healthy growth of these children.

Where education is concerned, a meeting held by the Sarawak Women and Family Council (SWFC) early this year discussed giving focus to Early Childhood Education (ECE) to ensure every child is given equal access to ECE in our state.

This move is seen as crucial as ECE plays a key role in contributing to the success of the individual, building excellent youth and future leaders of tomorrow. At a dialogue with Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and our youth last month, Taib spoke on the importance of compulsory preschool education. Amidst a lot of inequality in our society, he hopes to achieve an equitable policy that would reach every corner of our society.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin echoed the same sentiment. In the ‘State of the World’s Children Special Edition’ report, he said education is no longer a distant dream in Malaysia but a promise we have made to every child.

March 7 saw the celebration of the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting, where children were given the opportunity to utilise the media to express their views on a myriad of issues. Long viewed as having the power to affect change, the mass media is in a prime position to shape attitudes towards children’s rights. The aforementioned convention itself encourages the media to disseminate proper information that is of social and cultural benefit to children.

I know of people who would prefer to take care of animals instead of children. I guess, to each his own. But envisage how silent the world would be without their honest laughter, smiles and giggles. I can’t. I would rather have the disability to imagine.

Marcella Gider is an assistant manager, Conference Division of Sarawak Development Institute (SDI). 3rd Voice is published fortnightly and was initiated by Angkatan Zaman Mansang (AZAM) and SDI.

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