BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Health (MoH) has said it will form Child Safeguarding Units in all four districts, as part of wider plans to improve the government’s response to child abuse and neglect.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said “Child Safeguarding Champions” or specialists will be trained to recognise signs of child abuse and provide mandatory reporting and referral of child protection cases.

Speaking at the opening of a course on safeguarding children, YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said MoH will develop a “Child Safeguarding Policy” for health facilities in Brunei, which will include a code of practice for all health and social care professionals.

Outlining the new steps MoH will take over the next six months, the minister said they will develop a curriculum on child safeguarding and identify potential trainers who can conduct in-house courses.

“We hope to have these trainings institutionalised so that it becomes mandatory for all health professionals to learn child safeguarding.”

He said that every year the Medical Social Work Division receives around 300 cases of “various child safeguarding concerns”, including an average of 30 teenage pregnancies and 40 to 50 cases of child abuse.

Recent statistics from the Royal Brunei Police Force showed a 23 percent increase in child abuse cases between 2014 and 2018.

This prompted the government to launch a new hotline last October for reporting cases of abuse, neglect and bullying of children, as well as child trafficking and pornography.

“And yet, these cases are just the tip of the child maltreatment iceberg,” the minister said. “A lot more children are suffering because their plight had gone undetected and unreported.”

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said MoH’s new Child Safeguarding Strategic Plan will outline the role of health professionals in identify vulnerable children, as well as clinical treatment of traumatised children.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop violence before it begins and prevention requires an understanding of the factors that influence violence.

“Violence is in fact the outcome of the interaction of many factors at four levels – the individual, the relationship, the community and the societal levels.”

He added that it was the responsibility of government agencies — as well as the wider community — to support and safeguard children when their parents are unable to provide the best care and protection.

“Some children are born into extremely challenging circumstances… It is not enough for us to just tell parents to nurture and look after their children well. We have to also be able to pick up the earliest signs when they are unable to do the job of parenting well, to support them when they can’t, and to take them to account and to justice when they are actually harming the children.”

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham with participants of a course on child safeguarding. Photo: Courtesy of MoH

The MoH said its introductory course on child safeguarding frames the discussion within the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Brunei ratified in 1995.

The course facilitator, Dr Henry Ruiz, added that the training will give participants the chance to reflect on the state of child protection in Brunei, and explore the need for a comprehensive analysis that identifies the most critical issues and challenges that children face.

Some 51 people will attend the two-day course, which is organised by the MoH’s Child Development Centre and Al Majaz Training Services.