Get real, Suhakam!

If children cannot be protected against an exploitative and unjust system, what is the rationale for standing in their way when they participate in actions to demand their rights, asks Rani Rasiah.

A young protester at the water protest in Selangor on 5 December 2010 - Photo credit: kluanglunatic.blogspot.com

Suhakam in a recent statement following the Selangor water protest expressed regret over the participation of children in public rallies. They felt it was a form of ‘exploitation of children” and a “violation of the Child Act 2001”. Children “should be protected” and not exposed to risk, Suhakam said.

Suhakam should ponder the following.

According to government statistics, 34 per cent of the total workforce in the country earned an income below the poverty line of RM720 a month. That is to say, these workers and their families live in poverty without the basic daily necessities of life. Surveys show that these families coped by, among other measures, feeding their toddlers black coffee and cutting down on essential food items.

The privatisation of health care has led to a deterioration in the quality of care in government hospitals resulting from the drain in resources away from government to private hospitals. The children of the poor are denied access to medical expertise and technology that are available plentifully in private hospitals but at rates that are beyond the reach of the families of low-income earners.

The removal of subsidies and the introduction of the GST further burden working class families whose incomes are not raised to meet the increase in the cost of living. Such families are forced to further limit their expenses on basic needs. There are many cases of schoolchildren who have to stop school because they cannot afford to pay their bus fees.

When the government bulldozes its policy of housing people in high-rise low-cost flats, being fully aware of its failure in implementing a proper and effective system of maintenance, all residents including children are affected. Many low cost flats in the country are no better than high-rise slums, teeming with social problems.

Is Suhakam suggesting that the children in these circumstances live in a cocoon, shielded from the hunger, deprivation and desolation of poverty? It would indeed be nice if society were such that all children could grow up as children, and not be burdened with the cares of adulthood too soon.

The reality of children is that of their parents. If they are paid exploitative wages, the children suffer the consequences. If their houses are demolished, the children are rendered homeless along with their parents.

If the children cannot be protected against an exploitative and unjust system, if their rights are violated by unfair policies, what is the rationale for standing in their way when they participate in actions to demand their rights?

Get real Suhakam!

Rani Rasiah, an Aliran member, is coordinator of the Oppressed People’s Network (Jerit)

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