Deputy Home Minister’s parliamentary reply shows that he does not understand the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 26th of November 2014

Yesterday, the speaker allowed a one hour debate in parliament on the Al-Jazeera 101 East documentary entitled Malaysia’s Unwanted which was a shocking story on the mistreatment of refugees in Malaysia. This debate was allowed under Motion 18 (1) of the Parliamentary Standing Orders because the speaker judged that this motion was (i) specific (ii) of public importance and (iii) of immediate concern. The motion was filed by my colleague, Member of Parliament for Segambut, Lim Lip Eng.

Unfortunately, the replies of the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaffar, showed that he is not aware of the seriousness of the accusations revealed in the Al Jazeera program even though he was interviewed in the program.

In particular, his replies show that he is totally ignorant of the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of which Malaysia is a signatory.

During yesterday’s debate, I pointed out two examples in the Al Jazeera documentary of how Malaysia had flouted the UN CRC. Firstly, a Myanmar refugee was thrown in the lock-up not long after she had given birth and as such, was separated from her child. Secondly, a refugee from Afghanistan in a detention center told the Al-Jazeera reporter that he would only meet his son, who was also at the detention center, once a month and that after a year in the detention center, his son did not recognize him as his father.

I also referred to 6 Articles in the UN CRC that were flouted in the two examples above including Article 4, 8, 9, 10, 20 and 22. (See Appendix below)

The Minister’s reply was that a child had to be detained in the detention center on humanitarian grounds so that they can be close to their parents.

This totally ignores the specific requirements set out in the CRC to protect the liberty of children including that a child must only be detained as a measure of last resort and that they only be detained for the shortest appropriate time.

This was certainly not the case for the Afghan man whose child had been detained at the same detention center for one year. In addition, the humanitarian grounds which the Deputy Minister referred to has been totally ignored in this instance since the father only gets to see his son once a month and his son doesn’t even recognize him as the father!

It was revealing that the Deputy Minister failed to answer my specific question relating to the case of the Afghani refugee and his child. Perhaps the Deputy Minister has not even seen the documentary himself!

The plight of the refugees in detention centers is not new. Former SUHAKAM commissioner Chiam Heng Keng had highlighted this before in a report dated 5 December 2008.[1] Unfortunately, if the attitude of the government is to continue to be in a state of denial over these issues, these problems will continue to the detriment of these refugees and Malaysia’s international reputation.

Appendix: List of relevant articles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention

Article 8

1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.

Article 9

1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.

Article 10

1. In accordance with the obligation of States Parties under article 9, paragraph 1, applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. States Parties shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall entail no adverse consequences for the applicants and for the members of their family.

Article 20

1. A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.

Article 22

1. States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties.