BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The government is building a new shelter for children and women fleeing abuse, said the minister of culture, youth and sports on Saturday. 

Construction on the new building began last week and is scheduled for completion in October 2021.

Once operational, it will be able to house up to 70 children, said YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin.

The minister first announced the building of the welfare home in his public message to commemorate Universal Children’s Day on November 20. 

Children under government protection are currently housed at the Welfare Home Complex in Kg Belimbing, which is also used as a rehabilitation centre for young offenders.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Universal Children’s Day celebration on Saturday, YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said the new building, while still within the Belimbing welfare complex, will provide separate quarters for children placed under protection.

“We must ensure they have a good home environment where they are not confined and can still be with their mothers,” the minister said.

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

Without relatives or foster parents, 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,” Community Development Officer Noor Hidayah Hj Osman told The Scoop in a previous interview

She added: “When it comes to institutionalisation, it is not the most normal way [for a child] to develop.

“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.”

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports YB Dato Hj Aminuddin (2R) mingles with students during an event to mark Universal Children’s Day. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

A registry of vulnerable children and adolescents has also been established to facilitate inter-agency monitoring of victims who need immediate protection.

According to the most recent statistics provided by the Community Development Department, about 40 to 50 cases of child abuse are reported each year. Authorities have seen an increase of 40 percent in the number of child protection cases over the past five years.

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

Other initiatives in the pipeline to safeguard children’s rights include the National Framework on Child Protection, which is in its final stages of approval and expected to be announced “very soon”.

YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said that the framework will guide policy decisions for child protection and allow authorities to improve data collection. It will also outline the roles and responsibilities of each government agency involved in child welfare.

The minister added that the framework would consolidate existing child protection laws in Brunei with best practices from other countries.

“The laws are universal in nature, and child protection laws are already in place in Brunei,” he said. “What is important is to understand the system. To implement the law, everybody must understand the process, procedures, when to implement it and [understand] that it must be done in a timely manner.”

Universal Children’s Day is observed globally to promote the rights of children, as well as raise public awareness to safeguard children from neglect and violence.