In 2017, the news of eight teenagers dying and leaving eight more injured from a road accident plastered the headlines. Earlier in 2022, the old wounds were once more opened due to the Court of Appeal’s decision of sentencing Sam Ke Ting to six years of imprisonment.
The charges led to divisive social media discourse; some defended the accused, Sam Ke Ting and some pointed out that both the deceased and injured and the 27-year-old former clerk are all victims in the situation.
Sam Ke Ting could have been any other road user being at the crime scene at the wrong time, the wrong place. The teenagers on their basikal lajak are victims of a systemic flaw.
In 2021, 18 years olds are now part of the voter’s population as the bill of minimum voting age was passed. In due time, the youngest by definition of youth in Malaysia being any 15 year old would also mark their ballots during an election.
But the phenomenon of basikal lajak, or mosquito bikes and other social issues highlight a major concern on the state of Malaysian youth and begs the question, what will Malaysia look like in 20-30 years from now.
Are the youth of Malaysia well-equipped to pave a better future for themselves and our nation?
Basikal Lajak, A Menace At Night
It’s been five years since the tragic accident that claimed eight lives. But, the incident did not deter youngsters from riding on their basikal lajak, they remained a menace to road users.
Between the duration of 2019 and 2021, 4769 youth lost their lives on the road out of 7077 road accidents. From this figure, the breakdown of how many of these accidents involve basikal lajak remains unknown.
According to Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, the president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association said that in the process of growing up, youth are propelled by a desire for recognition and attention as well as thrill-seeking behaviour.
But the actions of mat lajaks who thrive on modifying their bicycles and violate safety requirements by riding on bicycles after midnight are cueing towards a deeper problem.
But if their action endangers themselves or society, and if the children intentionally ignore safety requirements and openly violate social norms, it may indicate something more sinister. – Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, the president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association
But to understand why mat lajak participates in illegal modification of bicycles, it is best to hear the words of a former mat lajak, Mohammad Saad.
In 2008, Saad’s venture into the world of thrill-seeking through riding modified bicycles with no brakes with a superman pose came to a halt after a road accident.
As a consequence of hitting one of the parked cars, he broke his spine, was paralysed from the waist down and is now wheelchair-bound. He said the involvement of youth in basikal lajak is because of the need for fun and fame.
We wanted to challenge the extremes. We wanted to be in the limelight! We wanted to be famous! We thought it was a lot of fun. We wanted to prove our gallantry. We feared not even if we knew it was dangerous! – Mohammad Saad, a former mat lajak
Experts have previously suggested that mat lajak may come from dysfunctional families with persistent socio-economic challenges and marital conflict. The fight to earn a livelihood through working multiple jobs led to poor supervision of children.
The mat lajak is likely to show rebellion against his parents in such circumstances. The child is also likely to have school performance issues resulting in low self-esteem and truancy. – Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, the president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association
But in Mohamad Saad’s case, his father had constantly reprimanded his involvement in illegal bicycle racing. On the fateful day of his accident, his father warned him but it fell on deaf ears. Mohamad snuck out of the house. At the same time, defying parents and sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night was just another medal to a teenager’s accolades.
Most parents would be dead tired by the time they get back from work. What can they do if the child quietly sneaks out of the house when they are deep in sleep? – Mohammad Saad, a former mat lajak
Saad joined illegal racing in 2001 used to sweep the tombs and put aside savings to fund purchasing parts for his modified bicycles.
You’re poor and see that your friend has an expensive toy which you cannot afford. As you want to have one very badly, you’ll start saving, one year or two years perhaps… – Mohammad Saad, a former mat lajak
An extension of mat lajak is the mat rempit issue that involves illegal motorcycle racing, mat lajak often idolises their seniors who are mat rempit. Experts have indicated if the basikal lajak issue is not curbed effectively, it would only give way to more mat rempit, loss of lives and those who are left injured from road accidents.
The mat rempit menace could have started from the mat lajak so if the problem is not addressed, we will be seeing more mat rempit. And society will have to bear the hefty medical costs especially if the kids are paralysed for life. – Harry Tan, National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general
Lives lost too soon, the hefty cost of medical costs subsidised by the government would contribute to the loss of able-bodied generation that should have been part of the nation-building and economic growth.
Boredom That Led To Temporary High
A survey conducted by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry found juvenile offenders in correctional centres admitted that curiosity and boredom were the main reasons why they got into trouble with the law.
Early exposure to drug use generally begins during adolescence and the maximum usage of drugs occurs among youth aged 18-25 years.
Early drug usage will lead to a higher risk of becoming addicted and an increased risk of substance abuse problems. This is concerning when it comes to the future generation as the prevalence of substance use among adolescents younger than 15 years old is high for both boys and girls at 30-40% and 10-20% respectively.
I became addicted to drugs at the age of 14 by taking cannabis and heroin. I was a hardcore addict and had lived under a bridge around the Klang Valley for seven years. Under this bridge is a ‘small village’ of addicts inhabited by more than 50 addicts. There we also ‘party’ with drugs to the point of delusion. – Rahman, a hardcore drug addict in the past
But drug use and its abuse are also often conducted in groups, and as shown by MTV’s survey, this is when 95% of surveyed youth feel at ease.
The growing youth values the opinions of their peers more as compared to their parents during this life stage and 50% of youth involved in drugs admitted that they readily accepted their friends’ invitation to try drugs due to the fear of being left behind and the excitement of taking drugs with a group of friends.
I don’t eat sometimes and save the pocket money that my father gave me to buy drugs every day. It is all due to my mistakes. I was influenced by my neighbours who are also drug addicts. – A teenager caught abusing drugs in Langkawi
Studies found that the rising drug use among youth has repercussions on their work-life.
Early involvement in drug use often causes a downward spiral in academic results. Drug users lose interest in school and over time drop out of school altogether. The inability to complete school or receive any formal education certification results in failure to obtain employment. This vicious cycle of unemployment and no income forces drug users to resort to crime or illegal activities to obtain money for survival and to sustain their addiction.
The utilisation of drugs is found to afflict lower-income households and youth in rural areas such as the highly-Malay populated Felda plantations.
In 2021, at least 30% of arrests made at Felda plantation in Negeri Sembilan were related to drugs.
A 16-year old school dropout from Felda plantation in Jerantut who was involved in drug distribution was caught in 2021 with his three friends. Now, the gallows await them.
The Malaysian Police Department admitted drug abuse is a rampant issue in the Felda plantations and is currently working with Agensi Anti Dadah Kebangsaan (AADK) to tabulate the numbers of People With Use Of Drugs in 137 plantations nationwide.
Some who resort to seeking assistance through rehabilitation centres and arrested in the past may suffer from relapses. This would negate repeated offences and prison sentences.
It’s useless to just give advice. For me, it’s also important how we want to fill young people’s time with beneficial activities that can distract them from getting stuck with unhealthy things like drug abuse. So the local community needs to turn on and activate appropriate activities such as social or sports that young people can participate in. – Datuk Mazlan Aliman, Penasihat Persatuan Anak Peneroka Felda Kebangsaan (Anak)
Unemployed With A Scroll In Hand
The Covid-19 pandemic has been damaging to the labour force market. The Malaysian youth face unemployment, being the first to be laid off during the height of the pandemic as employers tend to apply the “last in, first out” principle in downsizing the workforce affecting mostly the youth segment of the workforce.
Data suggest that the worst states to look for a job in Malaysia as a young adult and as a graduate are Terengganu, Sabah and Kelantan. The three aforementioned states including Perlis and Kedah recorded slightly higher rates of teenage unemployment.
One of the factors behind this is the mismatch in qualifications and industry needs, at least 60% of degree holders and higher are still unemployed a year after graduation due to this disparity.
I graduated in January last year and have applied for countless jobs that align with the course that I took back in the university but the first MCO in March [last year] has definitely put a stop sign to my job searching mission. I became unemployed for the next six months. – Qayyum Gustaf, an International Business Management graduate turned to deliver parcels with Lalamove
The youth in question ends up working in low and medium-skilled jobs. In 2020, only two out of 10 high-skilled jobs were held by younger people. This results in 13-15% of youth turning to gig jobs and other temporary forms of work to sustain their livelihood.
I’m currently working as a Pizza Hut delivery boy in Kajang. Despite my busy schedule, I still managed to apply for some jobs, internship placements, and attend virtual interviews. The pandemic has changed the hiring policies and the working culture itself. I’m someone who prefers to get physical guidance rather than just based on screens . – Muhammad Nadzmi Ruzaini, a mass media and communications graduate working as a Pizza Hut delivery boy
A domino effect of degree holders resorting to settling for mismatched jobs would affect the available opportunities for those with lesser education. Young adults in a lower age spectrum (15-18 years old) are almost 1.7 times more likely to be jobless than young adults.
Okun’s Law introduced by economist Arthur Okun states that for every 1% drop in employment, there is also a corresponding 2% drop in gross domestic product (GDP) growth. With the current high graduate mismatch in the labour force, this will continue the effect on economic outcomes as the available human capital is underutilised.
Not just that, the impact of unemployment on young adults permeates the way they view themselves and the likelihood of triggering either addiction or mental health disorder.
They have less confidence about the future, are more likely to turn to drugs, think that there is nothing to look forward to and the sense that their life has no direction. Some long-term unemployed youth reported having suicidal thoughts. – Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis
For the 200,000 students who graduated during the height of the pandemic, the challenges to securing a job have only increased with more competition in the workforce.
The challenge is the same as other fresh grads before the pandemic, but now the chances for us to be employed are much more narrow, so if the fresh grads back then had to try hard until they find a stable job, today we need to do it harder.
The challenge is actually more mental as we all know we need a stable job to survive rather than some freelance jobs, especially during this time. – Nandhini Sivaaragam, a law graduate who is currently doing freelance graphic designing
As the career prospects dim for many young adults in Malaysia, many are opting to move abroad for better opportunities. Brain drain in Malaysia has been growing at an average rate of six per cent per annum with approximately 55% of non-Malays in Singapore. 15% preferred Australia and the remaining 10% and 5% chose the US and UK, respectively.
What Does Malaysia’s Future Look Like?
Youth is the greatest asset for a nation’s growth, especially in the light of Malaysia gearing towards becoming a super-aged nation by 2060. The current social ills partaken by young adults such as basikal lajak and drug abuse may debilitate the future leaders’ potential to lead the nation.
The loss of the able-bodied generation that should be spearheaded is not just costly to the GDP growth but is a mishap that could have been prevented. As experts have highlighted the role of boredom and unbridled curiosity, the solution lies in providing spaces for the youth to channel their interests.
One of the programmes run by the government in collaboration with a local university, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia is the GENIUS Remaja to prevent at-risk youth living in PPR from being involved in social ills by providing classes on weekends.
We fill the youth weekends by organising skills classes and beneficial activities in line with the interests of today’s teenagers. – Dr Nasrudin Subhi, Head of Youth Empowerment Center (PERKASA) Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
There are other efforts to ensure even fallen youth get back on track for a better future such as providing vocational training run by a few organisations such as MySkills Foundation, and Masala Wheels. Some such as PT Foundation and PENGASIH Malaysia focuses on tackling drug addiction.
The heavyweight of unemployment would continue to riddle the graduates in Malaysia, the solution may not be as straightforward requiring the involvement of policymakers. But all hope is not lost, as 3.8 million new voters aged between 18 and 21 years old are registered, it is time to utilise the power of youth for any changes we want to see, it is through participating in the process.
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