Abuse of student made to stand in the sun: Unanswered questions

childrens rights
Image: elanguages.org

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Child abuse comes in many forms, but it is wholly unacceptable when individuals in positions of trust who are within the systems that are meant to nourish, educate and care for children, perpetrate it.

The recent abuse of an 11-year-old boy who was made to stand in the middle of a field in the hot sun for almost three hours, made many of us despair.

Teachers are looked upon to nurture and grow children, not to give them a heat stroke that permanently disables them. Schools are meant to be places where children are nurtured and educated to the greater good of the child, their family and the nation.

That this is child abuse is of no doubt. We are amid a nasty heat wave and authorities, including the education and health ministries, have issued advisories, which include halting all outdoor activities if the weather becomes too hot and monitoring activities that may expose students to hot weather conditions, to ensure that the students’ health remains unaffected.

Most of us would have experienced the severe heat these past two to three months. Most of us find it hard to tolerate more than 10 minutes in direct sunlight.

It is sad that this boy’s plight required a viral video to gain the attention of the authorities. We are heartened that Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek has confirmed that her ministry is investigating the incident.

However, it is alleged that the school had sent three warning letters to the parents of the boy for his absence from the school while he was being treated.

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It is important to remember that Malaysia has laws and policies in place to protect children.

Malaysia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The Child Act 2001 further guarantees protection and assistance for all children, regardless of background. This means that all institutions, agencies and ministries in Malaysia that deal with children have a legal responsibility to keep them safe.

Hence, it is critical to ask some questions about our child protection systems and authorities involved. As concerned civil society and child rights activists, we hope for transparency in the investigation to prevent any recurrence.

Some of these actions may already have been taken, however it would be good to keep the public aware of what actions have been taken, and what further steps are being undertaken. Ensuring the protection and wellbeing of children is the responsibility of us all.

Ministry of Education

No teacher should be allowed to use standing in the hot sun as punishment for students, let alone during a heat wave.

Has the teacher in question been suspended from work until the investigation is completed? Endangering life, especially that of a child, is a serious offence under both the Child Act 2001 and the Penal Code.

Is there any investigation of the school and its principal, who may have been aware of the child standing in the sun? Did they take any measures to protect the child and stop the abuse?

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We need to draw a bold line between correction of a child and child abuse. As such, it is important for the ministry to disclose to the public its policy on what is deemed acceptable correction of a child and steps to be taken to handle a child in need of correction.

Ministry of Health

When this boy was admitted to a Ministry of Health hospital, did the attending doctors immediately notify the Welfare Department in view of the abuse, in line with legal requirements under the Child Act 2001?

We see no involvement of the Welfare Department to date. Did the doctors fail to fulfil their mandatory legal child protection responsibility?

Welfare Department

As mentioned, we see no involvement of the key child protectors, the Welfare Department. The department does not require a notification to act.

Under the Child Act 2001, the mere suspicion of child abuse is sufficient for Welfare Department officers to spring into action. Where and what is the department’s involvement in supporting this child and family?

Police

We would like to thank the police for investigating the incident under Section 31(1) of the Child Act 2001 and referring their findings to the deputy public prosecutor’s office. We hope to hear about the findings of their investigation as it is of public interest.

We would be grateful for clarifications to all these queries. We and the public would like to know and be reassured that the systems and authorities invested with the power and responsibility for the protection of children fulfil their roles.

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This reckless and wilful act of endangering a child’s life which resulted in permanent harm must not go unpunished. It should be used as a catalyst to improve the support and protection of children in the care of various authorities.

A formal public response to these queries would serve as one step in improving services. Another key step would be to implement a mandatory child protection policy in all childcare centres, pre-schools and schools

We must hold those responsible accountable for their actions. This incident should prompt an immediate and thorough review of current practices and policies to identify and address any gaps in child protection.

Ensuring that teachers and childcare providers are well-trained, adequately resourced and held to the highest standards of care is essential.

We call on the government to enforce strict regulations and oversight mechanisms to guarantee that child protection policies are not only established but rigorously followed. There must be regular audits, mandatory reporting of any incidents and swift disciplinary action against those who fail to comply.

It is imperative we act now. This tragedy underscores the urgent need for systemic changes to prevent such incidents in the future.

Signatories:

  • Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, consultant paediatrician, child-disability activist
  • Shanti Abraham, President, Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia
  • Srividhya Ganapathy and Ajeet Kaur, co-chairpersons Crib Foundation (Child Rights Innovation and Betterment)
  • Sharmila Sekaran, Voice of the Children
  • Dato Dr Hartini Zainudin, Yayasan Chow Kit
  • Amy Bala, Malaysian Association of Social Workers
  • Datin PH Wong, Childline Foundation
The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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