Children should not be discouraged from expressing their views peacefully

I am relieved that Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching has confirmed that no action will be taken against the 11 students of SJK(T) Sg Ara in Penang who recently participated in a climate crisis protest there.

As far as I am concerned, the matter should not have surfaced in the first place as there certainly is no evidence that these children were being exploited in any way by their school or by other interested parties.

Exploitation and the freedom of expression of children are two very different things.

In this case, the children ought not to have been discouraged from expressing their views on a valid issue, even if those views are to the detriment of the government of the day.

I am aware that the Peaceful Assembly Act, 2012 prohibits the participation of those under the age of 15 in assemblies other than in a few categories specified in the Second Schedule of the said Act.

However, I feel such a prohibition is unconstitutional as it is clearly contrary to the right of freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed under our Federal Constitution, freedoms which apply to all irrespective of age.

No doubt, such a freedom is not absolute but disallowing children to freely express themselves peacefully would certainly be discriminatory, again in contravention of the right to equality guaranteed under the Constitution.

In this regard, I agree with the views of the Voice of the Children (VOC), Sharmila Sekaran, that children should not be discouraged from expressing their views peacefully and will add, even in public assemblies provided they are peaceful.

Intervention of the state in such matters will only instil a fear in children which may lead them to expressing themselves in other unhealthy ways.

I am also informed that the said SJK(T) Sg Ara has been active in creating awareness in environmental and climate issues and it is hoped this unnecessary episode does not deter it from continuing its good work.

We should engage with children and rationally persuade them to accept our views on issues after meaningful debates, not by creating a fear in them that they may be investigated for expressing their views.

It is hoped such an incident does not repeat itself in the future.

Ramkarpal Singh
CHAIRMAN, DAP NATIONAL LEGAL BUREAU & MP FOR BUKIT GELUGOR
Media statement by Ramkarpal Singh in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, 6th June 2019