Children should be treated and respected as individuals in their own rights. Like any individual, children have rights to shelter, food and education. They too should be treated fairly and equally. Many a times, we have failed to recognise these needs and as adults, we think we know best for the child. If we are able to recognise these rights, it will greatly assist in a child’s development both emotionally and spiritually. According to Bruce and Meggit (2002), “equality of opportunity means opening up access for every child and family to full participation in early childhood services.
There can be no quality in early childhood services unless there is equality of opportunity”. Children should not be denied of their rights based on their race, nationality, gender or abilities, boys and girls should not be treated differently. Also, equal opportunities can be defined in general as not discriminating a person by his or her race, gender, family orientation or whether they belonged to the minority in the society. I truly agree with this statement and advocates for equal opportunity to be practiced in every way. It is now the 21st century but can we safely say that children in this world are treated equally?
Some parents tend to treat their children differently if they are a boy, especially in the Eastern culture; succession is through boys instead of girls. Several parents have stereotyped the colours that their children should wear, boys should be in blue and gals should be in pink. Stereotyping basically means unduly fixed mental impression (Oxford, p. 546). Society too, plays a role in influencing the parents when it comes to bringing up their children in this part of the world and to a certain extent the children’s interest will be sacrificed.
Children are expected to excel academically and those who do not will be branded as slow and they will be frowned upon by the society due to the competitive environment. Parents are ? pressured’ to have an academically sound child and as a result, children will feel ? inferior’ if they are unable to excel academically and this would hinder their fitting into the society in the future. In order to uphold the rights of the children in the world, UNICEF introduced the “Convention on the Rights of the Child” which was adopted by Unite Nations General Assembly on the 20th November 1989.
(http://www. unicef. org/malaysia/UNICEF_FS_-_Understanding_the_ CRC. pdf). There are four principles that the Convention rests on and they are; non discrimination, best interests of the child, the child’s right to life, survival and development and respect for the views of the child . (http://www. unicef. org/malaysia/UNICEF_FS_-_Understanding_the_ CRC. pdf ). The main idea of having this convention is to recognize that children should be treated fairly as human beings and they should be brought up in a safe and conducive environment in order for them to realize their full potential in life.
Malaysia signed the convention in March 1995 and being a multi cultural country that also advocates for human rights has made many changes to its legislation to adopt the convention especially in the area of education and healthcare. However, a question that many Malaysians will ask today; are the changes sufficient to provide the children in Malaysia equal rights? Here, let us look into the two major areas to analyse the impact of the convention on Malaysia’s legislation concerning children.
According to article 28 of the CRC, “The child has a right to education, ? ” (CRC, p. 19). Malaysia however has reservation on seven articles and article 28 is amongst them. The preschool education is Malaysia is under the responsibility of a few government departments and social agencies such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of National Unity and Social Development, Ministry of Rural Development and also several states departments (http://porta;. unesco. org/education/en/ev. php-URL_ID=46167&URL _DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201. html)
Under the Child Care Centre Act 1985, there are 2 categories of childcare centre, one being a home based childcare centre which takes in less than 10 children. The other being an institution based centre which caters for 10 or more children (The Star, 24th March, 1996). The curriculum guidelines of pre-schools are guided by the Ministry of Education and it has to provide a holistic development of the child being in social skills, intellectual skills, physical skills and spiritual skills (www. unesco. org/wef/countryreports /malaysia/Rapport_1. html) which is in accordance to article 29 of the CRC (CRC, p.
21) Due to the increasing awareness of the importance of early childhood education and also the increase in women joining the workforce, many private childcare centres have sprung up especially in the urban areas. These centres are mostly run by the private sectors that cater to mostly working parents from the middle to high income families and they charge a fee for their services. For the poor or rural areas children, the pre school programs are run by the government agencies and to a certain extent Non Government Organizations (NGOs). (http://unescodoc. unesco.
org/images/0012/001279/127984e. pdf). The next area that Malaysia made changes to embrace the principles in the Convention is the healthcare policy. Child mortality in Malaysia has decreased significantly due to the effective healthcare programs that the government has implemented since the First Malaysia Plan 1996 (http://www. unicef. org/malaysia/ /children_4162. html). The most widely available health care service in Malaysia is public hospitals and for the rural community, there are over 1600 community health clinics (http://www. childpolicyintl. org/countries/Malaysia. html).
Generally, children in Malaysia are provided with very comprehensive health services from vaccination to clean water supply and also sanitation. The government has taken steps to promote health programs to children in the rural areas integrating the promotion of health in its rural development strategies and programs. This is in accordance to Article 24 of the CRC where it states “The child has the right to the highest standard of health and medical care attainable”. Although Malaysia has taken various measures to improve its education system to embrace the CRC, sad to say that there are still children in Malaysia who
are deprived of the right to education. This is especially apparent in vulnerable groups like children from the indigenous populations and also children in the rural areas. The indigenous children in Sabah and Sarawak have very little access to education and the curriculum in government schools do not cater to them culturally. Also, Malaysia has lifted its reservation on Article 22 which guarantees the child’s rights seeking refugees’ status in 1995 but until today, there have not been changes when it comes to undocumented children (New Sunday Times, June 25th 2006).
Undocumented children basically mean children who are born in Malaysia to migrant parents. Children in this category are deprived of education due to fact that they are not even recognized as Malaysian citizen. Although children in Malaysia are rather well taken care of in terms of healthcare services, there are still children who do not have access to their basic needs like healthcare. These are children born to poor parents, sex workers, alcoholics and sex workers. (New Straits Times, p. 19).
Also, with the increase in HIV/AIDS cases in Malaysia and many children and women from the rural areas are still complacent of this disease. A child’s formative years are extremely important as it will affect their growth in the later years. If Malaysia sees the significance of its younger generation, the government should seriously look into its commitment to uphold the Convention guidelines Firstly, awareness amongst the community is extremely important if Malaysia seeks to promote equal opportunity in the early childcare settings.
Government should take steps to promote awareness amongst the people in order to change their attitudes towards children and this can be done by including the CRC as part of the school curriculum (The Star, p. N47). Secondly, early childhood education should be made compulsory to all children in urban or rural areas and available to all children in regardless of their background as every child has the right to education. Curriculum for children below the age of four should also address the current issues like AID/HIV and sex education.
Materials and books used in the early childhood education should contain pictures of the different ethnic group in Malaysia. Activities organized by the childcare centre should be diversified as this would promote respect of various cultures amongst the children. More importantly, the curriculum should be sensitive to children from various cultural backgrounds especially the indigenous group. After all, Malaysia takes pride in its diversity of culture. Teachers in the early childcare sector should be trained in gender studies and also human rights (http://www. europeanchildrensnetwork.
org/resources/infoDetail. asp? ID =12592). As childcare practitioner, the attitude of the person is utmost important in making sure that children under their care is not being discriminated. They have to be fully aware of the child’s rights in order for the child to grow up in a positive environment as it is damaging for the child’ development. A child’s potential to learn and develop their full potential should not be limited by prejudice (http://ferl. qia. org. uk/content_files/resources/organisations/caderdale_ council/sharon_chapman/equalops/prejandisc. htm).