25th February 2022, Kuala Lumpur – The End Child Detention Network Malaysia (ECDN) welcomes the launch of the Alternative to Detention (ATD)  pilot programme by the Malaysian Government. The pilot programme is anchored by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The pilot programme, which will provide temporary shelter for unaccompanied and separated children under detention, acknowledges the serious harms that children face in immigration detention and focuses on prioritising the physical and mental health development of children.

The ATD pilot programme is a step in the right direction towards fulfilling Malaysia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which the nation ratified in 1995, and is timely, as Malaysia prepares to submit a status report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The standard operating procedure (SOP) framework for the ATD pilot, which was developed in consultation with select non-governmental organisations, is strongly guided by the principle of best interests of the child (Article 3), and further upholds the rights of a child to be protected from all forms of violence (Article 19), and to access special protection in the event of separation from family environment (Article 20). Further to that, the launch of the ATD pilot also works towards the implementation of policies and legislations that promote and protect the rights of the most vulnerable communities – which was one of Malaysia’s pledges made to secure their seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, and signals Malaysia’s commitment to the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration and its corresponding Regional Plan.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child  has provided authoritative guidance that immigration detention is a violation of child rights, and as of October 11, 2021, the Home Ministry reported about 1, 425 children in detention centres nationwide. Malaysia has been lagging behind our closest neighbours in ASEAN, specifically Thailand and Indonesia, who have since 2019 released hundreds of children from immigration detention into community-based care. Thus, we welcome the launch of the ATD pilot programme as a step towards ending child detention in Malaysia, and we urge the Malaysian government to follow through in ensuring that all human rights of a child, and a child’s wellbeing and best interests are foregrounded and upheld throughout the process of release, community placement, as well as in our immigration policies. As we move forward, we strongly recommend to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Ministry of Home Affairs to develop a clear framework for monitoring and evaluation of the ATD pilot that focuses on the best interest of the child. We also call on the Malaysian government to provide further details and regular updates on the implementation of this ATD Pilot in Parliament.

We look forward to continuing working with the government, policymakers, and implementing staff to protect and uphold the human rights of all children in Malaysia. 

About the End Child Detention Network (ECDN) The End Child Detention Network is a coalition of civil society organisations and individuals working to ensure that no child is detained in Malaysia due to their immigration status.

For more information, please contact: End Child Detention Network Coordinator – [email protected]

End Immigration Detention of Children