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Independent children’s commission must not be ‘toothless tiger’

The children's commission must be empowered to act on findings of violations

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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By James Nayagam

I refer to the announcement dated 19 January 2023 about the setting up of an independent children’s commission.

I served as a commissioner with the national human rights commission Suhakam and with the Enforcement Agency and Integrity Commission.

Serving in both these commissions has been challenging. Both commissions are merely advisory and have no enforcement powers to act on the findings of violations discovered through the investigations carried out by the commissions – hence, the label “toothless tigers”.

The commissions were able to conduct inquiries into complaints by the public and organisations. The commissions have conducted public and national inquiries and presented detailed factual findings.

Sadly, the findings were merely advisory or informative. What was more frustrating was the response of the government agencies in dealing with the findings of misconduct of a staff member, who was merely given a slap on the wrist. In some cases, the alleged staff got promoted.

It did not matter if the commission had a membership of eminent persons or academicians. The findings failed to make an impact as the commissions had no enforcement powers. There were announcements by the government of the setting up of a taskforce and press statements that action would be taken – but sadly not much in terms of significant recognition of the findings and a commitment to change for the better.

With the announcement of the setting up of the independent children’s commission to be led by Suhakam, it makes me wonder about the effectiveness of such a commission.

To quote the minister, the children’s commissioner would be appointed to oversee the setting up of the commission through the enactment of a specific act throughout his or her tenure in the office.

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The commission would serve to:

  • Promote awareness of and education on children’s rights to the public and government
  • Advise and assist the government in enacting laws, administrative orders, procedures and recommendations of necessary action
  • Advise the government on international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other related international agreements and
  • Hold inquiries and carry out investigations into complaints of children’s rights violations

But sadly, it does not have any powers to take action on the violations discovered during the investigations or inquiries. History repeats itself, just as in the other two established commissions where I served.

It is frustrating and utterly disappointing when findings of the commissions are not followed up on and no major action taken. The agencies concerned merely receive the reports and may acknowledge a weakness in the system, but the findings remain as advice.

I would like to propose that: 

  • The children’s commission be empowered to act on its findings of violations
  • Candidates are interviewed by a panel to ascertain their suitability and competence as commissioners in the children’s commission
  • There be at least two full-time commissioners
  • The members be truly independent, without political or religious involvement
  • Having too many eminent persons be avoided.  

Dr James Nayagam, a child rights advocate, is a former Suhakam commissioner

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.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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