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  • Writer's pictureBait Al-Amanah

Policy Paper: Breaking The Cycle: Alleviating Urban Child Poverty

Bait Al Amanah has published a policy paper titled “Breaking The Cycle: Alleviating Urban Child Poverty”, prepared by Humaira Nur Taqiah Binti Shafril (Research Assistant), Yugendran T Kannu Sivakumaran (Research Assistant), and Chong Yoong Wen (Research Assistant).

Since Malaysia's independence in 1957, poverty has predominantly affected rural areas, with significantly higher poverty rates prevailing. However, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 dramatically reshaped our country’s poverty landscape. According to Department of Statistics Malaysia data, urban poverty surged from 3.8% in 2019 to 4.5% in 2022. The pandemic-induced lockdowns disproportionately impacted sectors reliant on services, tourism, and informal employment, leading to widespread job losses, business closures, and income declines, particularly affecting urban communities. Children bore significant consequences amidst the hardships faced by adults, with lasting effects persisting into the post-pandemic recovery period.

Urban child poverty, driven by economic, social, and environmental factors, incurs significant economic costs beyond children themselves. Malnourishment affects one in five urban poor children, leading to a 20% productivity drop, with estimated $36 billion losses in East Asia alone. Substance abuse, prevalent among urban poor, further burdens the economy. In 2017, 56% of Malaysian inmates were from impoverished households, arrested for drug-related charges, straining taxpayers. While policies such as cash handouts like Bantuan Pendapatan Rakyat (BPR) provide immediate relief for low-income parents, concerns arise over long-term sustainability. The Inisiatif Pendapatan Rakyat (IPR) represents a positive shift, aiming to empower low-income families through economic initiatives. However, initiatives such as the Projek Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) face challenges due to their one-size-fits-all approach, which fails to consider the diverse needs of families in urban areas, along with issues related to inadequate maintenance and safety concerns. Urban poor children face educational barriers like transportation and tuition costs, resulting in a 0.07% dropout rate among primary students and 0.99% among secondary students in 2022. Additionally, stigma hampers Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) advancement. Despite increased funding for the school feeding program Rancangan Makanan Tambahan (RMT), challenges persist with its income-based targeting system, potentially excluding families. Therefore, the policy paper concludes with key recommendations to uplift urban poor children and disrupt the cycle.

Universal Compulsory Education Beyond Primary Level

The government should amend the Education Act 2006 to extend compulsory education to include both preschool and secondary levels. Emphasising play-based early childhood education for kindergarten is crucial, as highlighted by Cambridge research, facilitating powerful learning and problem-solving skills. Additionally, advocating for compulsory secondary education until age 15, akin to successful models like Singapore, ensures equal access to education for urban poor children and contributes to overall economic prosperity.

Universalizing the School Feeding Programme

It's imperative to universalize the Rancangan Makanan Tambahan (RMT) program to address malnutrition across all income backgrounds. This approach aims to provide equal nutritional support to all students, eliminating stigma among urban poor students and streamlining administrative costs. Pilot programs in selected schools can help assess feasibility before full-scale implementation, ensuring effective decision-making and improvements.

Integrating TVET Into Mainstream Education

Integrating Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) into mainstream education from ages 13 to 15, modelled after Germany's system, is essential. This fosters interest and passion among students, providing a clear pathway between mainstream education and vocational training, thereby moulding human capital and enabling informed career choices.

Adopting Comprehensive Planning for Future PPRs

The government should adopt a comprehensive urban planning approach for future People's Housing Projects (PPRs), embracing the "15-Minute City" concept in Paris. This reduces transportation costs, enhances productivity, and fosters economically vibrant and self-sufficient communities.

Improving Accessibility in Existing PPRs

Upgrading existing PPR infrastructure, such as pedestrian-friendly pathways and digital platforms for efficient connectivity, is vital. This enhances connectivity, encourages local businesses, and creates job opportunities, improving the overall living environment for residents.

Enhancing Security Through Digitization and Capacity Building

Implementing a dedicated police report app tailored for PPRs facilitates crime tracking and targeted patrolling. Introducing restorative justice programs strengthens community bonds, while capacity-building for Residents' Committees (KRTs) in conflict resolution and administrative tasks is essential for effective community management.

Establishing an Integrated Maintenance Program

Establishing an integrated program for routine inspections, prompt repairs, and waste management is crucial. Incorporating technology-driven reporting systems improves maintenance efficacy, and revising housing standards of PPR units addresses overcrowding and accommodates diverse household compositions.

Developing a Collaborative Governance Framework

Developing this framework involving government bodies, NGOs, and community representatives ensures a unified response towards urban child poverty. Regular coordination meetings and shared data platforms can facilitate efficient decision-making and resource allocation.

In conclusion, combating urban child poverty in Malaysia demands a holistic strategy addressing economic, social, and environmental aspects. With collaborative governance and persistent action, Malaysia can pave the path to a brighter future where every child flourishes, contributing to the nation's prosperity.

Breaking the Cycle Alleviating Urban Child Poverty Policy Paper
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Photo credit : NST

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