BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports is finalising the national framework on child protection which aims to improve data collection on vulnerable children. 

The framework will guide policy decisions and also highlight any gaps in child protection, such as the absence of comprehensive data, said Noor Hidayah Hj Osman, an officer at the Community Development Department (JAPEM).

In an interview with The Scoop on Wednesday, she said the government recognises the importance of centralised data to assess the effectiveness of their protection programmes.

“We have come to an agreement that it is time for national data collection and we are in discussions to develop this further,” she said, adding that the framework will be ready soon.

According to the most recent police statistics, about 40 to 50 cases of child abuse are reported each year, with authorities seeing a 40 percent increase in the number of child protection cases over the past five years.

This lead to the introduction of the ANAK 121 hotline in 2019 to report cases of child abuse and neglect.

The Ministry of Health, via its Medical Social Work Division, also records around 300 cases of “various child safeguarding concerns”, including teenage pregnancies, every year.

However, the government has yet to compile comprehensive data on violence against children, disaggregating information by age, ethnicity, gender and disability status. 

Speaking during a workshop organised by the Brunei Council on Social Welfare, Noor Hidayah said JAPEM assesses each police case of child abuse and neglect and makes a decision about whether it is safe for a child to remain in the home environment.

Children who are vulnerable or have experience abuse will be placed in the Belimbing welfare home if they cannot live with family, relatives or foster parents.

Noor Hidayah said the welfare home is currently the safest place for vulnerable children who cannot stay with relatives.

“We will be there with the children to inform, communicate and walk them through the process,” she said.

However, without family or foster parents to care for the child, their stay at the welfare home may become long-term.

“Their stay could be from two months up to a year. They can be protected there until they reach 18 years old, but it is not something that we are keen on,” Noor Hidayah said.

“There is a need for cognitive, psychological and social development. But in an institution where we have carers who may change according to their schedule, and with rules and regulations… it is not a home, it is still an institution. Once you go out to the real world, it’s different.”