Hannah Yeoh: Child Registry to protect children, not help jobseekers

Reena Raj
Yeoh says the Child Registry is meant to help protect children and not the adult who is looking for a job. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 25 ― The Child Registry is a tool meant to help protect children, said Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh.

Stressing that it is a work in progress and may take a long time to perfect, she said there is a strong will to make it a foolproof system.

Yeoh said having a list of those convicted of crimes against children is not sufficient to keep such people away from children as the scope of threat is beyond that.

“Besides data from the court [those convicted] we also want to have a side file of data from the police ― names of those who have had too many police reports lodged against them, where there is a pattern, those who were investigated but not charged.

“At some point, I would think that for it to be foolproof, those who are undergoing court trial should also be included as the trial may go on for few years and they could be out on bail and having access to children,” she told Malay Mail recently.

Yeoh said such data must be made available to the ministry for internal checks.

“There could be a situation where a person has several police reports against him, involving different victims at different locations. That’s an alarm. The ministry must be able to alert employers and parents who want to hire that person,” she said.

Yeoh said human rights groups have raised concerns that if a person has police reports lodged against him or her, the person’s name should not be on the list, as it is unfair as they have not been charged.

“That is why, for the first phase we can only do [a list of] those with convictions. Those convicted are the only ones who will be listed in the registry, but it has to be a complete list,” she said.

Yeoh admitted that there are many teething problems in setting up a foolproof registry.

“With the recent number of cases involving children as victims, no matter what rights we are dealing with ― it can’t be at the expense of a child’s right,” she said.

“For us, the priority is the child’s safety and not the adult who is looking for a job,” she said.

When asked if registry checks will be made mandatory for those who want to employ staff who will have direct contact with children, she said the ministry has not reached that stage of discussions yet.

“Now it is to get the list in order first,” she said.

However, she said that it should be made compulsory when it involves certain sectors.

She said parents should have the right to conduct checks on people who are dealing with their children.

“If you are a school [for example] hiring teachers, the checks must be made compulsory and it should not just be restricted to schools ― it must be broadened to any person dealing with children,” she said.

Yeoh added that those who are dealing with children just for a couple of hours a week, such as Sunday school teachers, swimming instructors, piano teachers and home tutors should be vetted too.

“I know we are not quite there yet as a developed nation but we should get there,” she said.

“There are many other laws that need to be amended to make it compulsory. We will do it if we need to,” she said.

As an alternative to that, Yeoh said the ministry is considering the “working with children check” practised in many countries including Australia.

“Anyone having to deal with children must go through this screening,” she said.

“If you want to work with children, the onus is on that person to ensure that he/she has been screened and be issued with proof like a card,” she said adding that it is called the blue card system.

She said because the scope of jobs involving children is a big one, this method will make it easier for employers to pick suitable candidates.

“It may not be compulsory but priority will be given to those with the card,” she said.

“It puts the burden back on the applicants. You go and get your clearance if you want a job, instead of putting the weight on the employers.”

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