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Equal Opportunities of Children in Malaysia

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    The term equal opportunity has been used in different contexts and has been the focused of many studies and policies in both developed and developing countries. In employment for example, equal opportunity pertains to the non-discriminatory selection of applicants and employees. That is, applicants are chosen based on their job-related qualifications regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic status. This concept is also called “careers open to talents” (Rawls 65).

    In education, equal opportunity means the education should be distributed and be open to all who can learn and that no child or any individual that can understand and become educated should be excluded from access to education (Gutmann 127). From these definitions, it can be viewed that equal opportunity is the right of all people to access to social activities such as employment and education as well as health care and politics regardless of gender, religion, race, class, or disability.

    Access to such social activities provides people the opportunity to learn, to work and improve their lives and the improvement that can be done on ones life depends so much on the opportunity provided by the society. However, equal opportunity in real life, although has long been considered to be a significant aspect of every society, is always overlooked in many circumstances. For example, the minorities in the United States have long experienced discrimination in terms of health care.

    About 30 percent of Hispanic origin and 20 percent black Americans lack a usual source to health care compared to only 16 percent of White Americans (“Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care”). Also, among preschool children with asthma, only 7 percent of black and 2 percent of Hispanic children are prescribed routine medications while that of white American children is 21 percent (“Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care”).

    On the contrary, Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that no child shall be deprived of his or her right of access to health care services (UN 7). In a research done by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, it was found out that there are racial disparities in special education across the US. This research shows that about 55 percent of White American students with disabilities are more likely to be included in special education compared to only 42. 6 percent that of Hispanic and 37. 3 percent that of the Black students (CRP 4).

    However, Article 23 of the UN Convention promotes equal opportunity to mentally or physically disabled children, that they have the right to access and receives education and training regardless of their race or nationality. Moreover, there are about 130 million out of school in developing countries, most of which are girls accounting to 73 million of the 130 million (Bellamy 7). This finding suggests that most developing countries cannot meet the requirements of article 28 of the UN Convention which promotes children’s right to education.

    These examples reflect that most countries developed countries cannot fully comply and commit to equal opportunities due to various reasons. One reason can be lack of resources especially in the case of the third world countries. In fact, the disparity in the percentages of children attending formal care like in Brazil, Botswana and Vietnam are due to differential access to and different ability to afford early childhood care and education (Heymann 2).

    Another reason is that some of the existing laws, legislations and practices of a country are not aligned with the UN Convention although such regulations also promote equal opportunity to children. Malaysia and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Malaysia is a developing country in Southeast Asia. Like other developing countries, Malaysia heavily relies on the knowledge and skills of the country’s youth that provides Malaysia the ability to be globally competitive (EFA Report).

    Due to globalisation, countries are adopting principles, legislations, and practices which have significant effect on the country’s ability to function in the global economy. Relatively, globalisation can increase inequalities. For example, technological development has resulted to educating children about information technology. If a country cannot provide enough resources and IT education to its youth, it cannot provide equal opportunity to its children. To address such issue, Malaysia adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995.

    However, the country maintains eight reservations due to conflict with the country’s constitution, domestic laws and ethics: Article 1 – definition on the term ‘child’; Article 2 – non-discrimination to race, nationality and gender; Article 7 – name and nationality; Article 13 – freedom of expression; Article 14 – freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Article 15 – freedom of association; Article 28(1a) – free and compulsory education at primary level; and Article 37 – torture and deprivation of liberty (Kulasegaran; UN Treaty Collections).

    For examples, article 1 of the Convention conflicts with the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1961; and the Juvenile Courts Act, 1947 conflicts with Article 37. However, Malaysia shows commitment to the articles of the Convention pertaining to the rights of the child to education (Article 28 1b, c, d, e, 2 & 3), health protection (Article 24) and welfare (Article 19 and other articles of the convention).

    Prior to the adoption of the UN Convention, there are other legislations that existed in the country such as the 1991 Child Protection Act. This Act has been revised and changed to the Malaysian Child Act or Child Act 2001 which is based on the UN Convention (UNESCO 4). This has been the greatest impact of the Convention on the country’s legislation. The UN Convention has impacted primarily the education sector and has provided the people more equal opportunity to education.

    Even before the adoption of the Convention, the country already achieved 100 percent primary school participation while the basic primary education is free and universal, covering all children even if it is not compulsory (Kamerman 15). The country also established the National Philosophy of Education (NPE) in 1988 which served as the statement vision of the Ministry of Education (“Malaysia Education for All”).

    NPE is basically a vision ‘to develop the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner’ under the Education for All (EFA) programmes (“Malaysia Education for All”). Also under the EFA programmes of Malaysia is the early childhood care and education (ECCE) which aims to: provide care for the children of working parents; provide employment opportunities for women/mother; provide cognitive, social, physical and spiritual stimulation to children under 4 years; and prepare children for primary school (Kamerman 15-16).

    Aside from the government through Ministry of Education, Community Development Division of the Ministry of Rural Development, and Ministry of National Unity and Social Development, NGOs also play significant roles in providing preschool education to children including: the Malaysian Council for Child Welfare, the Malaysian Kindergarten Association, the Malaysian Association of Child Care Providers, and the National Association of Preschool Teachers (Kamerman 16).

    Basically it is the Ministry of Education who administer and ensure that preschool education is provided even to underprivileged in the urban and rural areas of Malaysia by providing curriculum guidelines which should be followed by all pre-school centres (“Malaysia Education for All”). NGOs on the other hand provide support to the government like the Borneo Child Aid Society which was founded in 1991, promoting and providing education to children who do not have access to basic education due to distance, poverty or legal status and mainly children who works in plantations (Borneo Child Aid Society).

    Opportunities to health care, on the other hand is provided and promoted by the Ministry of Health. Health care for children can be achieved primarily via the Health Clinics which are focused on prevention, promotion, cure and rehabilitation services such as disease control, maternal and child health services, family planning and education (“National Implementation of Agenda 21”). Aside from Health Clinics, there are also Community Nurse Clinics that provide maternal and child health services in rural areas.

    The coordination of these rural and urban health clinics contributed to the increased coverage of health care and immunisation against childhood diseases such as the eradication of polio in 1995 (“National Implementation of Agenda 21”). The Heath Ministry is responsible for health promotion activities and campaigns such as the Life Style Campaigns which started in 1991 and continued annually with different themes. Such activities were also participated by NGOs which ensured that different communities participated in health programmes (“National Implementation of Agenda 21”). Conclusion

    Based on the findings above, Malaysia has long understood the importance of equal opportunity to child education and health care as reflected by the country’s practices and programmes which were implemented even before the country adopted and comply with the UN CRC although there are some reservations which can be viewed to be very important in terms of child rights is concern. However, Malaysia still decided not to comply with some of the articles in the CRC due to the country’s domestic law and ethics. Basically, the UN CRC is a compilation of universally adopted law that promotes children’s right.

    Malaysia’s adoption of the UN Convention resulted to the creation of the Malaysian Child Act or the Child Act of 2001. Like other countries, the government agencies are the primary responsible for the programmes that promote opportunities while the NGOs also play supporting but significant roles especially in the aspects where government has some inadequacy. Generally, Malaysia implements equal opportunity to child education and health care as reflected by its 100 percent primary school attendance and health programmes.

    However, because the country specified that it has reservation on Article 2 of the UN Convention which is about discrimination on race, gender, nationality, language and ethnicity, it can still be concluded that Malaysia’s policy and legislations do not completely implement equal opportunity. There are children who already work and the legislation of Malaysia supports child labour which is a reflection of unequal treatment to children; that is some children in other countries enjoy playing and can focus on studying while some children in Malaysia need to support themselves.

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