The rights of children must be considered in a divorce, said United National Organisation of Children Malaysia (Uncom) president, Dr Joshua Peter Tan.
“When the family unit breaks up, we are not just dealing with the husband and wife; it will be very traumatic for the children involved. We must give weight to their opinion and consider their choices,” he said in his speech at The Children Forum 2011 here on Friday.
The one-day forum held in conjunction with International Family Day was organised by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) and Uncom. Tan said divorced parents must understand that a husband can change his wife and vice-versa, but to a child there is no replacement for a mother and father.
“Not too long ago, the national dailies were running series of reports on a custody matter involving a 12-year-old girl. There were many differing views from the public but leaving opinion aside, the case dealt with a very important issue: does a child have a right to be heard in a custody dispute? In that case, the girl had to wait for almost six years before her views were considered. There are many other children suffering in silence and who are still hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
He said in any custodial dispute, children were often deprived of their rights to show their feelings.
“The children are alienated not only from their parents but also their circle of friends. Parents are not replaceable. It must be appreciated that there is no child who is too young to understand (divorce), and children must not be denied the right to be heard,” he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding (Ikim) deputy director-general Professor Dr Zaleha Kamaruddin said joint custody arrangements are favourable to children.
“This is because, in contrast to the conventional sole custody approach, where courts normally award custody to mothers with all the responsibility for the children and visitation rights to fathers, shared parenting emphasises an equal or nearly equal role for fathers,” she said.
In protecting the rights of all parties, parenting plans should be designed to reflect modern day challenges and the circumstances facing parents and children before, during and after the divorce, she added.