Contexts Of Our Work
The work of CPS takes place in a variety of contexts. These include local, national and international contexts. All of these come from the increasing recognition of both the extent and the implications of child neglect and abuse.
THE UNCONVENTION of the RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (CRC)
At the international level, the adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 marked a major step forward in establishing global benchmarks for our response to children, especially those in need. Malaysia is a signatory to the CRC, which sets out the basic rights which any child should expect. It therefore provides CPS with a major context of our work, as it should for all of us.
NATIONAL and LOCAL: MALAYSIA and PENANG
Following from this, CPS also works within the initiatives and parameters set out by the Federal and (Penang) State governments, respectively. There has been growing public and government awareness about the issues related to child neglect and children at risk in our country, one of the major contexts for which is:
"Rapid industrialisation and the resultant rural-urban migration,.....as well as changing lifestyles and negative influences, has given rise to various social problems, such as breakdown of the family unit, drug addiction, child abuse, marital breakdown and runaways." (Para 18.49, Seventh Malaysia Plan)
Family conflicts, including violence against women, are being reported more to the police and other agencies. There is increasing family and community breakdown, both of which are receiving more attention from government and non-government organisations. Reported incidences of children being abused are on the rise and the implications for child neglect and abandonment are serious. Government and non-government organisations like CPS are attempting to respond to the consequences.
As part of its response to the issues facing children, the federal government is constantly reviewing its legislative and statutory duties. The enactment of the Child Act in 2001 was a consolidation of a number of different laws which applied to children previously. It was also a recognition of the many issues facing children and our duty as a society to them.
The Bill provides for the establishment and procedures of child protection teams at State- and district- levels. It also provides a wide definition relating to the kinds of children who may need protection. They include children who are, or who are likely to be, physically injured, emotionally injured or sexually abused by their guardian(s); children whose guardians can not guarantee their protection, through neglect or inadequacy; children who are falling into bad association, or are exposed to moral danger; children whose guardian is unable or unwilling to provide the basic necessities, or who cannot safeguard their health; children whose behaviour patterns are a danger either to themselves or others; children who are found abandoned; and children who are found begging.
You will see from this list that there are many, many children who are to be found in one or more of these situations. The Government, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, has taken responsibility for providing for children who are abused. Organisations such as CPS then provide for children who are neglected or abandoned, supplementing provisions available for children in need and at risk.
THE PENANG STRATEGY PLAN
As a Penang-based organisation, the work of CPS also falls within the overall objectives of Penang state government policy. In its Strategic Plan, "Penang into the 21st Century", the former Penang state government identified overall objectives towards which it will work. It included children as a special needs group, and also recognised that tackling poverty is crucially important, in and of itself but also in order to safeguard the future of children at risk. The present Penang state government shares these ideas.
Many of the CPS children come from poor homes. Although our primary aim is to eventually re-unite the children with their parent(s), it is often the case that the home background shows little improvement over the years, much of this traceable to lack of basic facilities (including decent housing) and lack of proper income. This can exacerbate any individual failings amongst family members that may have caused the neglect of the child in the first place.
We need to recognise and support, therefore, overall state government objectives such as the creation of a 'more equitable, integrated and caring society' where hard-core poverty is eradicated and general and relative poverty reduced. This is important. There are many studies, international and local, which show the link between poverty and negative effects on children. Malnutrition stunts physical and intellectual growth. Lack of household income may lead to dispersal of family members in a desperate search for jobs. It may see family members, including both parents of young children, having to work long hours, leading to neglect and abandonment of children. It may see children also being asked to work to supplement family incomes, leading to a lack of schooling, a compromised future and a lack of adequate protection. Poverty may increase the kinds of pressures that lead to family breakdown.
The Penang Strategic Plan is one document which clearly urges that steps be taken towards the promotion of a 'caring society in which the welfare of the socially disadvantaged is adequately provided for'.
This involves a partnership between government and people, and needs the positive participation of people like yourselves to make it attainable. Such provision for those facing difficulties, such as children in need, includes "improving facilities and services such as halfway houses, self-help groups, shelters and crisis centres with the assistance of the private sector and socio-civic groups." (Para. 10.5, Penang into the 21st Century).
In addition, the State Government is committed to improving institutional support for social development, which includes encouraging NGOs to venture into new areas of social provision such as childcare and community-based services.
The modest efforts of CPS would fit into this conception. We thank you and rely on your support to continue and expand our work.
The federal government is in the process of reviewing the existing legislation, to tighten up certain areas and to respond to feedback from stakeholders and organisations about present procedures and provisions. It can also be anticipated that the major responsibility for child protection in this country will continue to reside with the Department of Social Welfare.
But we must understand that the legislation and government agencies by themselves cannot deal with the issues of children at risk. All of us need to be responsible. The development of a stronger civil society and the ethic of community initiative to tackle the major social problems in our society are essential if we are to build a society and a country where those less fortunate than ourselves can be allowed to prosper and reach their full potential.
The coming years will need to see an expansion of initiatives to tackle the problems facing children in our society. Not only will this involve expanding secure environments (shelters or foster homes, for example) in which children can be placed, but will also involve the facilitation of local, community-based initiatives (such as day centres, creches and play centres) where provision for children and for carers can help maintain family and community cohesiveness with creative outside support.
CPS is one of a variety of non-government and semi-government organisations which have already become involved in the issues. In our commitment to providing for those children who come into our care, we also are committed to supporting wider initiatives to deal with issues of children at risk.
Your support will be crucial.