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6 Facts About Child Poverty That You Should Know About

Malaysia is home to some 9.3 million children under 18 years of age[1] and out of that total, over 157,000 Malaysian children are living in absolute poverty.

In a report by Khazanah Research Institute in 2021, 8.7% of households with children live below the poverty line and it was indicated that the number can be much higher because many children live in families who are vulnerable to economic shocks as a result of the pandemic[2]

Children in poverty face considerable challenges in all areas of life – good health, quality education, safe and secure housing conditions and the guarantee of nutritious meals on a daily basis. 

Despite scoring 7.73/10 on the Realization of Children’s Rights Index, many Malaysian children are denied the most basic of human rights and needs[3]. Countless humanitarian organizations are working around the clock to fill these gaps, providing for children in poverty in Malaysia with better access to education, improved internet access, safe shelter, good nutrition, and adequate healthcare. 

What is it really like for children living in poverty? Here are seven facts about child poverty in Malaysia that you should know about: 

#1: 85% of school dropouts come from poor families living in less developed states

Source: The Star

The Ministry of Education (MOE) reported primary school dropout rates were at 0.15% and 1.21% for secondary school students in 2019[4]. The same report recorded a slow and steady decline in dropout numbers, however, more work needs to be done – in specific states and areas. 

Of the total number of dropouts, a staggering 29,000 students are from Sabah[5]. This can be attributed to the lack of school infrastructure and resources with some schools even lacking clean water and electricity and the lack of accessibility to schools. 

#2: 22% of children under five, living in low-cost flats, experience stunted growth

Source: Today Online

Malnutrition and poverty have always come hand-in-hand, bringing severe ramifications, especially on children. As a result of malnourishment, a UNICEF report found that children under five years old who are living in PPR flats in KL were wasting (20%), stunting (22%), underweight (15%) compared to the national average[6]

The rising cost of urban living has forced low-income families to cut back on food expenditure leading to inadequate food and nutrition for the whole family.

#3: Child marriage in Malaysia is on the rise despite a global decline

Source: Malay Mail

The rise of child marriages in Malaysia is a huge concern as it denies a child of basic rights and privileges and forces them into adulthood when they are not ready for it. 

Sabah recorded the highest number of registered Muslim child marriages at 334 in 2018 — followed by Pahang (177) and  Johor (167). Pahang also holds the highest number of non-Muslim child marriages in the same year at 102 marriages — trailed by Sarawak (55) and Perak (35)[7]

Child marriage is not just a religious or cultural issue, it is an issue closely linked to poverty and the factors that keep communities poor. 

#4: 9.2% of the children from B40 households experience mental health issues

Source: New Straits Times

It is found that peer pressure is strongly correlated to children experiencing mental health issues. Children feel the need to behave in a certain way to be accepted in the social environment they are in. Such alteration in the behaviour of the child may lead to the onset of cognitive dissonance — further affecting the mental state by deteriorating the child’s self-confidence. 

Urban poverty is a contributing factor for mental health issues due to the nature and environment of the urban lifestyle — filled with materialism, compelling children to compare themselves to their better-off peers[8].

#5: Stateless (undocumented) children in Sabah do not have access to formal education

Source: Asia News Daily

While the Malaysian system is constantly undergoing improvements to better provide for the children in both the rural and urban areas, the stateless community is still marginalized. Up until 2018, stateless children who remain without documentation (eg. ID cards) are discriminately rejected from attending government schools. Today, they are required by the government to provide documents such as the child’s birth certificate or adoption papers otherwise they will still be rejected. These documents in many cases are unreasonable requests as those facing generational statelessness do not possess any of these documents[9] and find it hard to obtain them. 

#6: 8 out of 10 children had no access to computers for online learning during the MCO

Source: The Conversation

Families On the Edge, a report released by UNICEF in 2020 found that 8 out of 10 students from urban poor families do not have access to computers, effectively leaving them behind in class while teaching resumes online[10]. Additionally, 9 out of 10 students had to use mobile phones as a medium to attend their online lessons. Some do not even have stable internet connectivity because every member of the house was online at the same time.

Explore Our Sources: 

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2019). Children Statistics. Link. 
  2. Khazanah Research Institute. (2021). Building Resilience: Towards Inclusive Social Protection in Malaysia. Link
  3. Humanium. (2021). Children of Malaysia. Link.
  4. Ministry of Education Malaysia. (2018). Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. Link.
  5. UNESCO. (2013). Malaysia Education Policy Review. Link.
  6. UNICEF. (2018). Children without. Link.
  7. UNICEF. (2021). Towards ending child marriage in Malaysia. Link.
  8. R. Rajaendran, The Star. (2019). Poor students face more mental issues. Link. 
  9. N.A. Ibrahim, New Straits Times. (2018). Stateless children can enrol in school. Link.
  10. UNICEF. (2020). Families on the Edge, Issue 2: Status of the households post-MCO. Link.
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