KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 — The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) has today expressed grave concerns over the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri’s announcement of a public set of standard operating procedures (SOP) to determine whether mothers are unfit to care for their children.
The coalition of women’s rights groups also asked why such a focus is placed on mothers’ fitness when there are no corresponding procedures for fathers.
“Equality in parenting is fundamental so as to not deny the child their rightful access to receive love, care and guidance equally from both parents, which is likely to result in healthy mental and emotional growth.
“It is essential to recognise the importance of ensuring the welfare and well-being of children, which is a responsibility shared by both parents, but also to a larger degree, the community and other institutions,” JAG said in a statement here.
It also said that these SOPs may discriminate on gender and gender roles, and therefore called for a thorough and inclusive review to ensure they are fair, non-discriminatory, and reflective of the best interests of the child.
“Any procedures put in place to evaluate parental fitness must prioritise the best interests of the child and be carried out in a fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner. It is critical that any guidelines established for determining parental fitness do not discriminate based on gender,” it said.
JAG also urged the Department of Social Welfare to exercise its powers judiciously and in a manner that respects the rights of both parents and prioritises the best interests of the child.
“We call for an initiative to support parents, including possible parenting classes for both parents should ideally be provided to families undergoing this SOP,” it added.
Last week, Nancy was reported by Malaysiakini saying that her ministry is discussing with the Welfare Department to make public the SOP used by welfare officers in determining whether mothers are unfit.
She also said that mothers who felt they were unfairly evaluated as “unfit” and therefore had their children’s custody taken away can file an appeal with the Welfare Department.
Formed in 1985, the JAG is a coalition of 14 women’s rights organisations advocating for gender equality and social justice in Malaysia within a feminist framework.
Today’s statement was co-signed by nine groups including All Women’s Action Society (Awam), Association of Women Lawyers, EMPOWER, Family Frontiers, Justice for Sisters, Kryss Network, Perak Women for Women Society, Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo) and Sisters in Islam (SIS).