Children in low-cost flats live in poverty, says UN

It is a clarion call for all stakeholders to accelerate efforts to protect our children


Almost all or 99.7% of children living in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur (KL) are in relative poverty bracket, according to a study by a United Nations (UN) programme.

A study by UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) Malaysia entitled “Children Without: A Study of Urban Child Poverty and Deprivation in Low-Cost Flats in Kuala Lumpur”, revealed about 15% of the children below the age of five are underweight, almost two times higher compared to the KL average (8%), while about 22% of the children are stunted, two times higher than the KL average.

The study, produced by DM Analytics Sdn Bhd, also stated that about 23% of the children are either overweight or obese, six times higher compared to the KL average (4%).

Unicef representative in Malaysia Marianne Clark-Hattingh said the report aims to uncover the data blind spots and highlight urban poverty in KL.

“Children in low-cost flats live in KL, within easy proximity to amenities; yet, have less access to nutritious food, don’t go to pre-school, live in perceived unsafe areas and have less opportunity to learn and play than most other children in Malaysia.

“The reality is: Poor children are among us, but they often remain unseen. It’s clearly a data blind spot,” she said in a presentation yesterday.

“We hope this study will help the government achieve its quest, as envisioned in the 11th Malaysia Plan and Transformasi Nasional 2050.

“We need strong policies to eradicate poverty, and leaving no one behind is a collective responsibility,” she added.

The survey for the study was carried out last year which involved 966 heads of households and 2,142 children from 17 public housing flats in KL and Petaling Jaya.

The questions were structured to capture deprivation in four dimensions — income, education, health and living standards.

The report also revealed that children from public housing flats in the nation’s capital do not have a conducive place to study and that only 50% of those aged five and six are in pre-school.

The study also stated that 14% of children have moderate to weak academic performances.

It also stated that despite the children’s challenges, they still perform on a par with the national average.

Meanwhile, DM Analytics lead researcher and chief economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid (picture) said eight out of 10 children, or 81%, study in their living rooms, while 15% have no place to study.

The l ack of space, Muhammed said, correlates with the small units these children and their families live in.

“Although on the average, the families only have two children, but 22% of them have three generations in one house,” he said, adding that 5% of them have five children or more.

He hopes the findings of this study will spark a wider national debate and push for policy changes.

“It is a clarion call for all stakeholders to accelerate efforts to protect our children. The study is a stark reminder that the clock is ticking and the wellbeing of our children must be urgently addressed,” he added.

Muhammed also said the issue of stunted growth among children should be swiftly addressed by the government.

“The most important period for a child is the first two years. Based on Unicef research, we are having about one million kids below two years old and 500,000 pregnant mothers.

“Once children are weaned off breast milk and fed solid food, the prevalence of malnutrition increases with 22% of four-year-olds are underweight compared to 5% of twoyear- olds.

“If we allocate RM200 per month for both pregnant mothers and the child until he reaches two years old, it is going to cost only half of the 1Malaysia’s People Aid total allocation,” he added.