“The future of the nation depends on the children of today.” It is a universally acknowledged truth and a foundational human rights principle—every child deserves an education and a safe environment to grow.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Malaysia has embarked on an unprecedented journey towards globally standardised, legally binding child rights protections.
However, a surge in child labour practices signals a gap in our society’s awareness of and adherence to human and child rights.
This article delves into the significant amendments made to the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966 and what they mean for Malaysian businesses and families.
Age of Majority
The Age of Majority Act 1971 defines the age of legal adulthood in Malaysia as 18. One of the fundamental principles of contract law is that both parties entering into a contract must have the legal capacity to do so. Legal capacity includes understanding the contract’s terms, the consequences of entering into it, and the ability to provide informed consent. In the case of minors, they are considered legally incompetent to enter into contracts.
Contractual capacity is a critical element in contract law. For an agreement to transform into a legally binding contract, several conditions must be met, as outlined in Section 10 of the Contracts Act 1950. These conditions include the voluntary consent of the parties involved, their competence, a lawful purpose, and lawful intentions.
Section 11 of the Contracts Act 1950 explicitly specifies that competence, a component of contractual capacity, is contingent upon attaining the age of majority, maintaining sound mental capacity, and being free from legal disqualifications. This means that minors who have not reached the age of majority lack the necessary competence to enter into contracts.
Stricter Measures Against Child Labour
While the general rule is that minors are legally incompetent to enter into contracts, there are exceptions to this principle. One significant exception exists in The Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966 (the “Act”), which serves as Malaysia’s key legislative framework for regulating the employment of minors.
Recent amendments to this Act align it more closely with International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards. This affirms Malaysia’s commitment to protecting working children’s rights and welfare.
Regrettably, some sectors still romanticise child labour as a “noble endeavour” that contributes to family income. Let us be unequivocal: child labour is a grave violation of human rights.
That said, the Act does provide some leeway for children and teenagers who opt to work voluntarily under conditions that do not exploit or endanger them.
Key Provisions in the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966
Permissible Employment for Minors
The Act defines a “child” as an individual under the age of fifteen. Meanwhile, a “young person” is a person no younger than fifteen but below eighteen.
The 2019 amendments to the Act have added provisions that expressly prohibit the employment of minors in hazardous conditions or roles. Here’s a brief rundown of the types of work that are permissible:
- Light labour suitable for the child’s abilities in a family-run enterprise
- Work in public entertainment, subject to licence conditions
- Roles in schools or authorised training facilities
- Work under a formal apprenticeship programme authorised by the Minister
For young persons:
- Light labour compatible with their abilities
- Employment in theatres, restaurants, retail stores, or agricultural enterprises
- Industry-specific work aligned with their skill sets
- Jobs directly supervised by a parent or legal guardian
Work Hours: Limits and Regulations
The Act imposes specific limits on consecutive workdays and working hours, designed to prioritise a minor’s education and well-being. Here are the details:
- No more than six consecutive workdays
- A mandatory 30-minute break for every three or four hours of work
- An eight-hour cap on a working day
- No work hours to be done from 8 PM to 7 AM
Penalties for Violations
Employers found guilty of breaching the Act are subject to stringent penalties, which include a fine of up to RM50,000 and imprisonment of up to two years for first offences.
Repeat offenders face harsher penalties, including up to RM100,000 in fines and five years imprisonment.
The 2019 amendments to the Act have brought more clarity and stricter regulations, aligning the Malaysian framework more closely with ILO guidelines. Although work for children and young people is not entirely prohibited, stringent limitations are in place to ensure their well-being and human rights are not compromised. These amendments align Malaysia more closely with international labour standards and underscore its commitment to protecting its young workforce.
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