Archive for the ‘Children's Safety’ Category

Kids deserve education

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

I WAS lucky to be introduced in 2014 to a group of Dutch expatriates living in Malaysia. They have been volunteering at several refugee learning centres in Kuala Lumpur. When we met for the first time, I was taken aback by their stories about the children they support.

That first conversation led to se­veral more meetings, and eventually they resulted in the formation of Ideas Academy. This is our learning centre in Pudu, where we provide secondary level education for refugee children from 12 countries.

We started in 2014 with just 25 students. Today, we have over 100. The Academy has done well. Bearing in mind that all the students come from challenging backgrounds, our teachers have done wonders to support their growth.

The teachers’ tireless effort was rewarded last year when we won the 2016 Outstanding Contribution to Secondary Education Award from the Malaysian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

When we decided to set up the Academy, we opted to specialise in secondary level education as we felt there was a need for this in the Pudu area. This was a very risky decision because it brought with it a very high cost. Let me give some examples why the costs are higher.

Unlike primary level, where the lessons are quite generic and basic in nature, secondary level education involves more technical subjects. For instance, science (and eventually biology, chemistry, and physics) is more effective if we can conduct experiments but the material and equipment are not cheap.

When it comes to secondary education, we need to factor in that Malaysia does not recognise refugees and our Government’s policy is to remove them from this country when we can. Thus, we must use a curriculum that allows the students to continue their studies when they move. Hence, we use the Cambridge IGCSE curriculum. This pushes costs up, especially to employ experienced teachers, buy textbooks and to pay the IGCSE exam fees.

But we decided to take the financial risk. Our gut-feeling told us that all children deserved a chance and we must do what we can to help.

Going by the numbers, I am pretty sure our hunch was correct.

The UNHCR website said at the end of January there were 150,430 refugees in Malaysia. This is the registered number. I am confident that if we included the unregistered ones, that number would be higher.

Out of that, 133,856 were from Myanmar, comprising some 56,135 Rohingya, 39,967 Chins, 10,662 Myanmar Muslims, 4,767 Rakhines and Arakanese, and the rest were other Myanmar ethnicities.

Then there were 16,574 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including 3,198 Pakistanis, 2,907 Sri Lankans, 1,925 Yemenis, 1,875 Syrians, 1,712 Somalis, 1,449 Iraqis, 887 Afghans, 686 Palestinians and more from other countries.

There are 21,405 children who are at school age. But it is illegal for these children to attend government schools here. And since Malaysian laws ban their parents from working to earn money, of course they are too poor to afford private schools. Their only option is to go to charity learning centres.

There are not enough learning centres to cater to the demand. There are just 124 learning centres in the country. As a result, from the 7,703 children who are supposed to get an early education, only 1,027 (15%) do so. Out of the 9,902 who were supposed to attend primary school, only 4,964 (50%) could.

The number is worse for secon­dary level because there are only two learning centres that specialise in providing secondary level education, ours being one of them. There are a few more who combine primary and secondary education under one roof but that, too, is far from enough. Out of the 4,480 children who were supposed to attend secondary school, only 863 (19%) are in a learning centre.

It is heart-warming that our Government is taking steps to help Rohingya refugees. This should be extended to cover all refugees so that we are not accused of discriminatorily picking skin colours.

All children, including refugees from all races and religions, deserve an education.

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Heng: Don’t abandon children if unable to care for them

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

IPOH: Parents who are no longer able to look after their children should send them to Welfare Department-registered welfare homes, said Wanita MCA chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie.

Heng said that parents should never neglect the welfare of their children, adding that it would be safer if a child was cared for in a registered home.

“Parents could also call MCA’s Legal Advisory and Women Aid centre to help get their unwanted child adopted. There are many couples that are unable to have children who are willing to adopt,” she told reporters during a feng shui talk at Wisma MCA Perak here on Sunday.

Heng said that there are alternatives to abandoning children.

“Malaysians are a caring society. Whenever there’s a disaster, they are always ready to spring into action,” she added.

Heng was asked to comment about a three-year-old boy who was found naked and crying alone in a house in Tampin, Negri Sembilan on Friday.

The mother, who was unemployed, is believed to have left him there alone while she went out to look after her mentally-ill mother and stepmother who was injured in a road accident.

The police have since remanded the mother for investigations.

Asked about stateless children, Heng said that those who plan to leave their children at welfare homes, temples or other institutions should leave them with the necessary documents for them to obtain citizenship.


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Islander children risk their lives to reach school

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017


Marilyn with her son at the school after arriving from the island

SANDAKAN: School children living on several islands of Sabah have to go through the daily perils of the sea condition among others to get to their school on the mainland.

Despite the risk, their parents also need to fork out extra money from boat to bus fares just to have their children education.

For 31-year-old widow, Mursa Arni, who resides at Pulau Berhala, it can be a big challenge as she has two school-going children.

“I want my children to receive education even if their school is on the mainland,” she said yesterday when met while sending her children to school on the first day of class.

They were up before 5am as they have to catch a special boat for schoolchildren, where the boat operators charges RM2 for secondary student and 50 sen for a single trip, to the mainland.

According to Mirsa, the boat journey takes 40 minutes to the Sandakan Market jetty where her children will continue their journey to school in a school bus.

“I have my primary 4 and 1 children who are both studying at SK Sri Tanjung Papat 2 which is on the seafront at Kampung Sim-Sim Berhala Darat,” she said.

Mirsa would wait for them till the school sessions ends like what she did with her elder child. “It will be too costly and long trip for me to return home and later coming out again to fetch them from school,” said the mother of five who lost her husband six months ago to sickness.

Now staying with her parents, Mirsa said that she only wanted the best for her children who should have better future.

Meanwhile, the boat operator, Linda Juanitu, 45, who is operating the business with her husband, said they have been operating the service since 2010.

“I understand the feeling of parents as I have 10 children with three of them going to the same primary school like Mursa’s children,” she said adding that they want their children to acquire knowledge.


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Chilling and never-ending cases of child abuse For more stories:

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

HOW good are you with names? Are any of these familiar: Ainul Solehah Mohd Husamuddin, Cheah Kai Sze, Cheah Kai Wen and Mohd Roshamnudin Abdullah?

Unless you follow the local news closely and have an exceptionally keen memory for names, you are not likely to know any of them. It is highly possible that you have never seen their faces either.

And you most certainly have not heard anything about what they have achieved in life and how they have touched other people’s lives.

That is because they were young children who never had the chance to grow up to pursue their dreams.

Then again, maybe they never had much time to dream. Perhaps nightmares instead dominated their brief and probably joyless lives.

Each of them has died this year under suspicious and tragic circumstances. And the adults who were supposed to take care of these children have been charged with offences related to these deaths.

On Friday, we learned of another child in Sungai Petani, Kedah, who has slipped through the cracks and has become part of this unfortunate group.

We do not yet know the name of the two-year-old boy. The details available are that he had been allegedly beaten to death and his body was found two weeks later wrapped in a thin mattress, stuffed into a cooler box and covered with ice.

His four-year-old sister is in the hospital, with marks and injuries that suggest a horrific life of abuse and neglect.

The children’s mother and her boyfriend have been remanded until Wednesday to assist in police investigations.

Every couple of months or so, the story of violence against children rears its ugly head. The police move swiftly to nab the culprits. The politicians and the authorities do what they can to help those who survive the ill-treatment.

The Star Says

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‘Home-based nurseries may help working mothers’

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry is looking into the possibility of training babysitters for home-based nurseries to solve problems faced by working mothers.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya suggested that housewives or single mothers could earn extra income by taking a maximum of three children per household, including their own children.

“I believe a mother can take care of three children at a time. If a mother already has one child of her own, she can look after two more,” he said.

“If you work at a factory, you would not be able to pay RM700 or RM800 to a babysitter to look after your child.

“A RM300 fee for a child is more feasible,” he said at a press conference in the University Malaya Medical Centre here yesterday.

He said the Health Ministry had been in talks with the single mothers associations, which welcomed the idea.

“Our ministry can help with training with regards to taking care of and feeding the baby.’’

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Polluted air can affect kids’ brains

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

SOME 300 million children live with outdoor air that’s so polluted it can cause serious physical damage, including harming their developing brains, the United Nations (UN) said in a study released last week.

Nearly one child in seven around the globe breathes outdoor air that is at least six times dirtier than international guidelines, according to the study by the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) which called air pollution a leading factor in child mortality.

It published Clear the Air for Children, a week before the annual UN climate-change talks, with the upcoming round to be hosted by Morocco from tomorrow until Nov 18.

The agency, which promotes the rights and well-being of children, is pushing for world leaders to take urgent action to reduce air pollution in their countries.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under the age of five every year.

It also threatens the lives and future of millions more every day,” said Anthony Lake, the agency’s executive director.

“Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs. They can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains and, thus, their future. No society can afford to ignore air pollution,” Lake said.

Toxic air is a drag on economies and societies, and already costs as much as 0.3% of global gross domestic product, the broad measure of economic activity.

Those costs are expected to increase to about one percent of GDP by 2060, it said, as air pollution in many parts of the world worsens.

Unicef points to satellite imagery which it says confirms that about two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds minimum air-quality guidelines set by the World Health Organisation.

The air is poisoned by vehicle emissions, fossil fuels, dust, burning waste and other airborne pollutants, it said.

South Asia has the largest number of children living in such areas at about 620 million, followed by Africa with 520 million and the East Asia and Pacific region with 450 million.

The study also looked at indoor air pollution, typically caused by burning coal and wood for cooking and heating.

Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one death in 10 in children under the age of five, or nearly 600,000 children, making air pollution a leading danger to children’s health, said the agency.

It noted that children are more susceptible than adults to indoor and outdoor air pollution because their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable.

Children breathe twice as quickly as adults and take in more air relative to their body weight.

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Help molested children heal

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

WE hardly talk of the impact of the crime on the survivor, except maybe in trying to exact a more severe punishment from the judge.

And in many minds, molest is not really a crime.

It has been reported over the years that grown-ups who were molested as children have attested to being told, “Aiyah, it’s terrible what happened but he only touched you.

“He didn’t rape you” or “If you go on and on, people will talk about you instead, like you are damaged goods” or “Get over it, life must go on”.

But the psychological scar is deep. Several victims say it has affected their adult relationships because they do not like being touched.

Since the transfer of a teacher from a Tamil school in Hulu Selangor suspected of molesting nine primary pupils came to light in Parliament, reports in the media have largely focused on the suspected molester and why he was transferred instead of being suspended from work.

There is almost never any mention of whether a survivor of molest received any counselling, in what form the counselling took and how long it was held for.

In his reply to Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, Education director-general Tan Sri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof disclosed there were 15 reported cases of molest since 2010 and that the action taken included counselling for the student victims by the school’s counselling teacher.

But how qualified are school counsellors in national schools? Is their level of expertise enough to ensure abused children can recover and lead healthy lives as adults?

Several retired teachers and principals interviewed said the ‘cikgu counselling’ of their time would have been of little help to victims of molest.

“In those days, it was the ‘smiley’ teacher, the one the pupils liked who was made to do the job,” said a former teacher.

“One teacher who came to my school as a counsellor attended several workshops on counselling but never actually did any, even for the usual things,” said a retired principal.

“She didn’t know how to keep proper files, let alone conduct counselling sessions. When I made enquiries, I was told she was such a poor teacher that they didn’t know what to do with her. So they moved her to counselling.”

Most teachers in national schools have a Bachelor of Education (Guidance & Counselling) degree.

But this is not enough, say child rights activists.

A social work degree in counselling psychology on the other hand would equip the counsellor with different skills.

One child advocate interviewed said they had come across a counselling manual that offered – “please pray” and “forgive the teacher” – as advice for survivors.

The Welfare Department does not seem to play a role in counselling students.

The only time when proper counselling seems to have taken place is when a children’s non-governmental body lodged the complaint of abuse.


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Safety of students must not be taken lightly

Friday, November 4th, 2016

KOTA KINABALU: The safety of school children should not be taken lightly and all relevant parties must take action to prevent fatal accidents involving students and draw up effective action plans to ensure their safety.

This was said by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye (pic) in a statement yesterday.

He said that this comes following recent incidents where primary school children were killed after being hit by cars or heavy vehicles while crossing the road in front of their schools.

“There were also cases where students on motorcycles died in road accidents while travelling to or back from schools,” Lee said.

He said that in an effort to make schools a safe place for study and work, NIOSH has initiated the “OSH IN SCHOOL” programme.

“The programme can complement initiatives by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to make schools a safe place for students, teachers and other staff and visitors such as parents.

“It aims at creating an awareness of safety and health at an early age. It is one of our ongoing corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, which is implemented with sponsorship from the corporate sector,” he added.

Lee said that the programme has been introduced in a number of schools in collaboration with corporate organisations and has proven beneficial in raising safety awareness among the school communities.

“Through the programme, NIOSH hopes to educate those involved in school activities to appreciate the importance of good Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) management as a solution to all problems related to safety and health in schools,” he said.

He added that following a recent meeting with Minister of Education Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, the latter had agreed to NIOSH’s suggestion for the “OSH IN SCHOOL” Programme.

“Mahdzir said that he would ask the Ministry’s Director-General to take the necessary action regarding the matter,” he added.

Lee also said that the programme covers another dimension and views the school as a workplace in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994.

“A school or an education institution is considered as a place of work therefore, according to OSHA, employers have to make schools safe and healthy places of work for teachers, students, administrative and support staff as well as visitors,” he said.

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‘Any teacher accused of molest should be cold storaged’

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

PETALING JAYA: The teacher who allegedly molested nine pupils should be “kept in cold storage” to make sure he is away from children until cleared by an investigation, said National Parent-Teacher Association chairman Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Ali Hasan.

He said the teacher must first and foremost be suspended from school and perhaps, transferred to a deskjob at the district education office or Education Department.

“Justice must prevail for the teacher but at the same time, we must protect future generations and maintain the good name of the teaching profession,” he said yesterday.

Dr Mohamad Ali said the teacher should be sacked and not be allowed to work as a teacher again if convicted of the offence.

The harsh action would be a deterrent to others, he said, adding that the person would also need to be monitored.

National Union of Teaching Profession Malaysia president Kamarozaman Abd Razak said the standard operating procedure for such cases was to give the suspect to a desk job while under investigation.

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One shot, two many

Monday, October 24th, 2016

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry has directed all health clinics to avoid giving babies two types of immunisation jabs on the same day.

Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said immunisation shots were supposed to be given one at a time at intervals outlined in the National Immunisation Schedule.

“Giving two jabs at the same time happens when the immunisation schedule is breached,” he said, calling on parents to strictly abide by the national immunisation schedule.

However, in cases where they may have missed the schedule, parents could discuss with healthcare personnel to re-schedule the immunisation date to ensure only one jab was given per session, he said.

“We have informed healthcare personnel in clinics of this,” he said.

Dr Lokman said this in response to pleas by parents who claimed that their children became autistic after being administered with two types of vaccine on the same day when they were 18 months old.

He pointed out that there were no scientific evidence linking autism to MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

According to the current immunisation schedule in Malaysia, children at the age of 18 months were given a single shot of five-in-one vaccine DTaP-Hib/IPV (difteria, tetanus, pertusis, hemophillus influenza B and Polio).

“It is given in a single jab. This is the same vaccine given at the age of two months, three months and five months.

“Therefore, there is no association between the vaccine given at the age of 18 months and autism,” he said.

Dr Lokman said attempts to link MMR immunisation to autism were made based on evidence reported by Dr Andrew Wakefield in a 1998 study published in theLancet medical journal.

However, the Lancet had in 2004 retracted the interpretation of the Wakefield report, and subsequently retracted the entire report in 2010 on grounds of insufficient data, as the study was based only on 12 children.

Dr Lokman noted that a study conducted between 1988 and 1996 in Yokohama, Japan, on 31,426 children showed that the number of autism cases did not drop despite a drop in MMR immunisation rate.

“The study also showed a significant increase in autism cases, especially after 1993.

“In Malaysia, a study conducted in five districts between 2005 and 2006 showed there were two cases of autism for every 1,000 children aged between 18 months and three years.

“This is within the global range of one to six cases among every 1,000 children,” he said.

The Health Ministry had started collecting specific data on autism since 2004, he said.

“Within 12 years from between 2004 and 2015, we have identified 1,808 autism cases involving children below the age of seven,” Dr Lokman said.

Meanwhile, Persama (Pertubuhan Sayang Malaysia) Together For Autism founder Thila Laxshman said many parents in the group had similar experience whereby their children became autistic after getting two injections of vaccines on the same day.

After the injections, the children had fever and subsequently stopped talking, lost eye contact, had difficulty sleeping at night and threw tantrums to the point of meltdown.

“Our children were born normal but developed brain development disorders after the injections,” she said.

Thila, who is a singer, called on the authorities to seriously look into the possible link between autism and double vaccination.

A couple, Felix Edward Wilson and his wife Agnes Nathan, said their son Kevin became autistic after receiving two jabs of different types of vaccines at the age of two.

“Our son was born normal. He was able to string words into sentences at the age of eight months. He could sing nursery rhymes.

“Even before the age of one, he could tell the difference between a purse and a wallet.

“After the double vaccine shots, he lost his ability to talk. There was no more eye contact,” said Felix of his son, who is now 19.


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