KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — The word devotion may mean different things to different people.

But for child rights activist Datuk Hartini Zainudin, it means going all out to defend the welfare, protection and rights of children in Malaysia for the past 43 years.

From a young age Hartini, has been involved with children’s educational issues and children's rights.

In 2009, she co-founded Yayasan Chow Kit (YCK) to be the first 24-hour one-stop child crisis centre in Malaysia.

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The journey, however, wasn’t a straightforward one.

Funding and coping with the operating cost was one of the main challenges.

To keep things going, Hartini needed a backbone for the cause and decided to knock on corporate doors starting from the Chow Kit district.

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One of the corporate organisations Hartini decided to visit was Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) at Wisma Sime Darby at Jalan Raja Laut where YSD was located at that time.

"I literally just walked in to give it a try.”

The visit forged a partnership 12 years ago that has since gotten stronger.

Yayasan Sime Darby chief executive officer Yatela Zainal Abidin talk about the importance of having corporate bodies involved in child protection initiatives. — Picture by Yusof Mat ISa 
Yayasan Sime Darby chief executive officer Yatela Zainal Abidin talk about the importance of having corporate bodies involved in child protection initiatives. — Picture by Yusof Mat ISa 

Recalling the visit, YSD chief executive officer Yatela Zainal Abidin said although they were familiar with Hartini and her efforts, they were unaware of the foundation.

"We noticed that the effort was in line with our ‘education for all’ objective and we saw Hartini had the potential to bring YCK to greater heights.”

The random visit by Hartini turned into a major collaboration which saw YSD pledging RM5.85 million sponsorship commitment for 15 years from June 2011 to May 2026.

Since 2011, YCK has assisted more than 620 undocumented children and youth under its home-schooling programme, and 985 underprivileged youth under the YCK education programme.

According to Yatela, YSD focuses on philanthropy programmes to complement government efforts to build the nation by filling in the critical gaps in society.

"YCK was a cause that came to our doorstep and we could see the potential.”

Speaking about the consequences of not running such programmes, Yatela said children who are left on the streets are prone to wrongful activities.

"Today we see the impact as some of the children we look after are now going to school and university and have proper documentation.

"These are sustainable impacts that we need to amplify.”

Yayasan Chow Kit founder Datuk Hartini Zainudin has dedicated 43 years of her life to advocating children’s rights. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Yayasan Chow Kit founder Datuk Hartini Zainudin has dedicated 43 years of her life to advocating children’s rights. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Meanwhile, Hartini said one of the boys she picked up from the street 19 years ago is now 31 and does advocacy and social entrepreneurship and runs his business.

"We also had a Rohingya refugee child who joined us at the age of six and now at 22 he has settled in the US and is with the army.

"We can’t put a price on these impacts.”

Although various efforts have been made over the past few decades, Hartini said there are still many gaps to fill.

"Thanks to the advocacies, today we don’t get as many cases of violations against children.”

Hartini, however, said a greater impact needs policy change and government involvement.

"We cannot make any changes without having decision-makers involved to change policies.

"We have the data to show that issues and gaps surrounding children do exist and we need to address them.”

Echoing similar sentiment, Yatela said the collaboration between YSD and YCK has helped them to gather as much data to get a clear picture of the issues and also help them to move forward with the right strategies to address them.

Therefore, Yatela said it is vital to hold more engagements with the government to ensure these efforts can be done at a national level with greater impact.

To achieve that, she said the cause needs a more holistic approach with many stakeholders jumping on the bandwagon.

"Apart from the government, we need more people, corporates, agencies and non-governmental organisations to embark on child protection initiatives,” said Yatela adding that Sime Darby is the first corporate entity in Malaysia with a child protection policy.

Meanwhile, Hartini said keeping the initiative alive is costly and requires consistent cash flow to ensure the operation is uninterrupted.

The education programme alone costs YCK RM3 million annually which comprises salaries for the teachers, public awareness activities and operating costs.

YCK will be holding their inaugural Child Protection Townhall tomorrow in conjunction with World Children’s Day 2023 at help university Jalan Semantan from 2pm until 5pm.

The Townhall will be bringing together various stakeholders including relevant ministries to engage and get the ball rolling.

Among the attendees are Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri.

For more information about the programmes surf click here for YSD's websites.