The Global Campaign to End Child Detention is having a focus month in Malaysia this September - October.
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A snapshot of child detention in Malaysia

The prevalence of children, including unaccompanied children, in Malaysia’s immigration detention centres is a matter of serious concern.

Under Malaysia’s immigration laws, any person - including a child - who enters the country without valid documents is guilty of an immigration offence and is liable for a fine not exceeding 10,000 Malaysian Ringgit and/or imprisonment of up to five years, as well as whipping of not more than six strokes. These penalties apply equally to refugees and asylum seekers. Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and there are no formal laws or policies in place that recognize the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

Conditions in Malaysia’s immigration depots are generally poor, with overcrowding, poor sanitation and limited access to medical treatment. There is often insufficient food, clean water and bedding. Immigration depot regulations provide that a child under the age of 12 may remain with any of his/her parents, however there are no provisions for the specific protection of unaccompanied minors.

In practice, the conditions under which children are detained in immigration depots vary, according to the officer-in-charge of the depot and the depot’s facilities and set-up. In some depots, unaccompanied minors are kept with female adult detainees, while in others they are kept separate from adults. In other depots, minors are detained with the adult population, which can render them vulnerable to abuse.

In most depots, infants and young children have no access to milk, diapers or blankets, and there are no recreational facilities. Children in immigration detention also have very limited access to education, if any. These conditions are exacerbated by the sometimes lengthy periods of detention.

What needs to happen?

The Malaysian government has, in recent years, taken positive steps towards improving the situation of refugees and asylum seekers. There have also been clear efforts by officials within specific immigration detention centers to improve conditions for child detainees.

The Campaign encourages the government of Malaysia to build on this progress. In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which it is a signatory), Malaysia should take urgent measures not to detain children for immigration proceedings. The immigration detention of children should always be a measure of last resort, must be necessary to protect the best interests of the child, and should be for the shortest time possible. The Campaign encourages the government to consider effective alternatives to the immigration detention of children.

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