Children’s mental health suffering during pandemic

Children have lost the interest to study, with long periods of lockdowns blamed for the decrease

by AZREEN HANI / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

FORTY seven percent of parents from low-income urban households in Malaysia believe their children’s mental health has been affected by the movement control restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a United Nations (UN) study revealed.

The final edition of Families on the Edge study by UN agencies — Unicef and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) — also found that around two-thirds (65%) of the parents said they need parenting advice to cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Their biggest concern is education, with 61% saying their children have lost interest in studying and 78% blaming long periods of lockdowns for the children’s lack of focus to study.

Speaking at the launch of the report yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy Cluster) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed acknowledged that the government needs to do more, in terms of providing the right support for these families.

“As families continue to be burdened by economic and social deprivation due to the Movement Control Orders, as an effect of the rising cases of Covid-19, we will need to strengthen the provision of these support services.”

Mustapa said the Ministry of Health has already mobilised mental and psychological support for the affected families.

The report — prepared by local research outfit DM Analytics Sdn Bhd — also stated that eight in 10 respondents (81%) believe their financial situation will remain the same or further deteriorate in the next six months.

Only 37% of unemployed heads of household believe they will secure a formal job in the near future, while 45% of the employed heads of household are not registered with either Employees Provident Fund or Social Security Organisation.

It is much worse among the self-employed, where nine in 10 do not have any employment coverage.

Govt should initiate programmes or assistance more comprehensively to ensure no one is left behind, says Zouhair – TMRpic

“It is clear that a year on, these low-income urban families have not recovered from the Covid-19 impact,” DM Analytics senior researcher Zouhair Mohd Rosli told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“For children with no proper access to education, gadgets and even masks to go to school, we need to look beyond online learning and strengthen the education TV (Didik TV),” he said, citing that 62% of the families believe the channel has provided their children reprieve to catch up on lessons.

“The government should not initiate programmes or assistance half-heartedly. It must be done in a more comprehensive way by ensuring no one is left behind.

“Bear in mind, there is no more special Covid-19 assistance for them this year, unlike before,” he said.

Zouhair cautioned that without a consistent and targeted aid in the form of cash transfer, the financial situations for these families will get worse.

He also highlighted that the 3,259 jobs offered under the government’s [email protected] to help the urban poor represent only 9% of the total 36,000 unemployed individuals in Kuala Lumpur (KL) last year.

He called for the programme to be expanded to ensure employment opportunities for city dwellers.

“It is a thorny issue, but the minimum wage for those without tertiary education should be between RM1,900 and RM2,500 per month.

“This is equivalent to the amount of living wage needed to live in KL with dignity,” he added.

Zouhair also said minimum wages for graduates should be at least RM3,000 per month to be on par with the median wage offered in KL before the crisis.

As the pandemic has worse impacts on households led by women, UNFPA assistant representative in Malaysia Jayamalar Samuel said it is vital to have a more gender sensitive lens when it comes to policy planning and social protection mechanisms to ensure that female-led households will not be left behind.

“When it comes to the female-headed households surveyed, the report continues to show that they lag behind when it comes to income parity, childcare, employment and access to opportunities.

“Female-headed households have a high unemployment rate of 16%, which is roughly three times higher than the national average, while unemployment among male heads of households has fallen since December 2020,” she said.