March 2 2018
By Pearl Lee
DEJA VU would be the most apt way to describe Dr Raj Karim’s reaction to Unicef Malaysia’s ‘Children Without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur’ report.
The Malaysian Council for Child Welfare president has tirelessly championed the rights of children and the underprivileged for over 40 years.
Given her wealth of experience working with the disadvantaged, findings of the report which revealed (among others) that children living in low-cost flats in the city were either stunted or underweight did not surprise her.
Unlike several notable figures who mooted points on how to solve problems concerning these children, Dr Raj along with renowned economist Professor Tan Sri Dr Kamal Salih, said it was not a new problem.
“Sixty years later and the issues are still there,” said Dr Kamal, who was one of three panelists discussing the content of the report at the packed auditorium in Menara Axiata in KL Sentral on February 26.
As Dr Kamal provided a brief insight on his previous works with Dr Raj concerning the poor, it was crystal clear we have not found the formula to address urban and rural poverty 60 years post-independence.
While the room was warm due to an air-conditioning problem, many put up with it to learn more about the findings of the report, which highlighted:
* 12 per cent of children aged between five and 17 have fewer than three meals a day.
* 97 per cent of households say high food prices prevent them from preparing healthy meals for their children.
* One in two did not have enough money to buy food in recent months.
Many cringed upon learning Malaysia is worse than Ghana when it came to stunting among children under five and Kelantanese children are doing much worse than low-income countries, including Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
But Dr Raj made it clear to the floor that solutions to these problems have been around for years.
“There is no need to reinvent the wheel, just repackage existing initiatives and programmes and monitor the progress.
“We used to have food basket programmes for the rural poor. All we need to do is repackage the wheel to begin a growth spurt,” she said.
The food basket programme, an initiative by the Health Ministry, aims to overcome the problem of malnutrition among children from hardcore poor families.
Another panelist, Chua Choon Hwa from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, admitted while many programmes are already in place, the biggest problem is getting stakeholders to work together.
Chua, who is secretary, policy and strategic planning division of the ministry, said while the collection of data was important, the bigger question to address was whether the data was co-related.
Chua has a good point. There are just too many ministries, agencies and departments handling issues and spearheading initiatives concerning the poor.
While there have been many initiatives to help the hardcore poor in rural areas, there is a need to recognise that aid must also reach our urban poor children.
It is essential we re-look existing programmes meant to help our young city kids chart a better future.
All quarters need to acknowledge the problem instead of being defensive over the findings.
As Dr Muhammad Khalid, chief economist of DM Analytics said, this report is a clarion call for all stakeholders to accelerate efforts to protect our children and is a stark reminder that the clock is ticking and the wellbeing of our children must be urgently addressed.
Let not the efforts of all those who worked hard to make this report a reality end up as déjà vu for others in the years to come.