BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — We celebrate Universal Children’s Day with the theme “Reimagine a Better World” today, November 20.

This year has been challenging for the whole world due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Brunei Darussalam was not immune from the consequences of this pandemic, which has not only affected the economic and health sectors, but also children and young people.

In this regard, the 6th ASEAN Children’s Forum organised by Cambodia on October 13, 2020, was an opportunity for children across the region to share issues of concern amid the pandemic.

Brunei Darussalam’s children delegates primarily shared the impact on mental health due to lack of social interaction and activities, as well as the challenges of online learning.

However, they also emphasised the benefits and opportunities stemming from the pandemic, such as the ability to adapt to the new normal, increased use of technology, cleaner environment, and rising health awareness.

In its recommendations for parents and families to address the impact of COVID-19, the forum highlighted that we must be vigilant with our children’s mental health, spend quality time with them and avoid undue pressure on their learning and examinations during these uncertain times.

Universal Children’s Day aims to increase the spirit of unity and raise public awareness on the rights and well-being of children.

It is our responsibility to listen to children’s voices and consider their proposals and views in decision-making, whether at the family level, society, or country, towards shaping a better future for all.

The government of His Majesty continues to be concerned and sensitive to the welfare of children and will continue to ensure the safety of children and protect their rights.

Through a whole-of-nation approach, we will strengthen the system to protect children and young people under 18 in the country.

Several initiatives have been implemented, including national helplines such as Talian ANAK 121 (ANAK – Anak Negara Aset Kitani) under the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports; and Talian 145 (Hopeline) under the Ministry of Health.

These helplines are platforms for children, parents, guardians and members of the public to call on matters that affect children, or concerns regarding mental health.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) also provides a helpline to support children’s well-being and welfare.

Moreover, the development of the National Framework on Child Protection started in the beginning of this year, in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders who have been involved in examining this document to ensure it will be implemented effectively.

Another initiative is the establishment of a “Register of Children and Young Person in Need of Protection” to facilitate inter-agency monitoring of children or young people who need immediate protection.

A new welfare home shelter under the Welfare Housing Complex, Department of Community Development is being built with a “home concept” aimed at providing a place that is more comfortable for children residents placed under protection.

The role played by all parties is clearly evident to provide help and support to children for their mental, emotional, physical and education development, especially among vulnerable and high risk groups. For example:

(a) MoE’s technology devices charity drive, provision of internet access and educational TV are a number of initiatives conducted to ensure underprivileged students are not left behind in online learning,

(b) Nutrition assistance through food rations either in schools through MoE, or aid by non-governmental organisations, so that students will be more focused in their learning, and

(c) School equipment assistance for children in need, which has always been contributed by corporate and non-governmental organisations.

All these initiatives show a very strong sense of responsibility at the whole-of-nation level towards the well-being of our children and young people, especially during these challenging times as we adapt and adopt the new normal.

Let us all celebrate and ensure the continued well-being of our children in this country.

They are invaluable assets and the successors of our future generation, and InsyaAllah, will be our leaders one day in ensuring the sustainability of the economy, family’s well-being, religion and prosperity of the nation.

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to wish “Happy Universal Children’s Day to all the children in Brunei Darussalam”.

YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin is Brunei’s minister for culture, youth and sports.