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Legal Literacy for Children: Brainstorming Session

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LLP Group Photo

by Jaideep Singh

On August 9th, Voice of the Children organised a brainstorming session for the development of content for a legal literacy programme for children. We were joined by 18 experts on children’s issues, including Dr Farah Nini Dusuki, who assumed the role of moderator during the discussions.

Dr Farah began by emphasising the purpose of legal literacy for children, saying “we’re here to discuss the scope of what children ought to know enough to protect and empower themselves.” This is because many children are not aware of their rights, let alone that they have any rights, and this lack of awareness and education renders them completely helpless in the presence of domineering adults, so legal literacy is necessary to ensure their well-being.

She explained that this could be achieved by writing modules with different categories of children in mind, namely pre-school, primary and secondary, rather than dividing them arbitrarily into age groups. “This will make our task of getting facilitators easier because then we can hold trainings with teachers and they can impart legal literacy via their teaching.”

After a series of interesting points raised by a number of participants, it was decided that apart from age groups and status, the vulnerabilities of the child – in the context of personal rights, contractual rights and property rights – would be taken into account in the writing of the modules but would not be the primary consideration due to the relative subjectivity of the concept. In addition, the legal processes and remedies would also be explored so as to ensure thorough coverage of children’s rights.

LLP Dicsussion

The experts agreed that there would be six modules, of which one would be a generic, all-encompassing module for children to learn about their basic rights, four for children in conflict with the law and one for stateless, undocumented and migrant children. Relevantly, the participants were divided into three groups and asked to come up with feedback for modules pertaining to the aforementioned categories, with a group devoted specifically to child suspects or victims.

The group discussions were very productive, with individuals offering excellent analysis and input on their area of expertise. Each group considered the issue from as many angles as possible – from the ignorance of the police during arrest to situations in which a family member has violated the child’s rights, to the possibility of the child lying in court under duress and many others – and it was interesting to see how all these situations were applicable to all groups of children in question. This was a reminder that despite varying circumstances, all children in Malaysia who come into contact with the law face difficulties distinct from what adults may experience.

After lunch, to give a better sense of perspective on juvenile justice in Malaysia, Mr Azrul, the President of Pertubuhan Bekas Penghuni Institusi, talked about the work he has done with ex-inmates, including setting up a transit home for children from JKM as well as abandoned and unaccompanied children, providing counselling, encouraging children to speak up and equipping them with vocational skills to help them survive in the outside world.

Azrul

Che Rozi Azrul Bin Che Aziz

He was accompanied by two boys whom he had brought along to share their experiences as children involved in conflict with the law. The boys do not have families – their parents cannot be located or are unwilling to look after them – and they have lived in welfare homes and JKM institutions throughout their childhood. But they are “scared and worried” about how they might cope once they are out on their own. They said they would “need job skills to survive”, which most institutions are not providing at the moment – after the age of 18, they are released and left to their own devices – and this reinforced the participants’ opinion that homes for children, whether they are estranged or juvenile offenders, need to teach children not just about their rights but also their responsibilities.

Subsequently, the groups presented their findings. In terms of child victimisation, the participants stressed the child’s right to information – to inform and be informed – in terms of the legal proceedings, who to inform and how to get help if needed.

Dr Geshina, a psychologist and criminologist, who was the group leader, said, “Children have to be informed about their responsibility as victims to tell the truth. They have the right to be accompanied by trusted adults, to be heard and taken seriously and to be assessed appropriately according to their age.” She also mentioned situations in which the lawyer puts the child on the spot by asking very difficult questions, causing the child to break down. In this context, she added that they should be treated ethically as vulnerable witnesses and they should have access to watch brief lawyers who can talk to them about their situation, the possible effects to them and their self-esteem.

Summarising her group discussion, Fiona Barnaby, the legal officer from The International Committee of the Red Cross, highlighted the need for the role of probation officers and the police to be explained in the module. For example, the probation officers are expected to interview the children and visit their homes before giving recommendations to the court. The recommendations should be constructive reports about the children and the children should also understand that the officers are also supposed to monitor their progress.

Finally, for the statelessness module, Ananti of Yayasan Chow Kit said that language barriers ought to be addressed by providing translators for every process. Cultural rights were also mentioned, particularly in terms of teaching children that they have the right to say no to child marriage. Despite their different status, stateless and migrant children also have to be taught their basic rights, such as access to food and shelter, which are inalienable despite lacking Malaysian citizenship.

All in all, it was an enlightening session. The participants were involved and the discussions were interesting. VoC looks forward to developing the modules with the feedback that the participants have given.

 

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