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Four Types of Safe Spaces (Institutional Care) Providing Refuge To Different Groups of Children In Malaysia

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The pandemic in Malaysia to date has robbed more than 28,000 lives[1] who may also be parents of many children out there. At least 4,422 children were left orphans and their plight was placed under the wings of the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM) or the Welfare Department[2]. The difficulties faced by residential care institutions during the extended Movement Control Order have not been highlighted as much in the mainstream media. 

Based on a study conducted by UNICEF Malaysia[3], alternative care centres faced a lack of guidance and regulation on the upkeep of the centres during the pandemic. Most institutions were hanging by a thread as they watched their fund thin away, relying on the ration provided by JKM and others did not benefit from the help, placing added pressure on the overworked caregivers whose day-to-day running was funded by the public. 

Source: Unsplash

There are lesser-known facts about institutional care in Malaysia, and it does not only house those who had lost their parents due to unforeseen circumstances.

  • In 2013, at least 87% of children living in institutions had at least one living parent and 35% of these children had both living parents[4]. Contrary to the misconception that children who inhibit institutional care are only orphans. It is also a safe haven for children who belong to single parents, large families, broken families, lower-income families or relatives that could no longer bear the responsibilities of tending to them citing poverty as the main cause. 
  • A problem in terms of institutional care in Malaysia is the lack of accurate numbers, and a rough estimate of children in institutional care is at least 60,000 in 2017[5]
  • Boys are found to be more likely to be placed under institutional care[5].  
  • At least half of the occupants of care homes are children with disabilities[6]
  • Children living in government-run homes are expected to stay a minimum of three years or up until their legal age of 18 years old[7]
  • Not two institutional care systems in Malaysia are the same, as each institution occupies different groups of children and caters to their needs.

Based on Better Care Network report[5], children who lack guardianship find refuge in four different safe spaces in Malaysia:

1. Government/state-run child care facilities

There are three different types of government-run facilities enlisted on the Welfare department website:

  • 15 Children’s Homes which serves to protect and care for children under Section 54 of the Child Act 2001[8]
  • 9 Tunas Harapan Homes, family-based children shelter homes providing love in a familial environment for those who are unable to live with their biological parents/family[8]
  • 2 Rumah Perlindungan (RP) ATIP takes in victims  human trafficking and migrant smuggling[8]

The Tunas Harapan Homes may be a start to the family reintegration system rather than our primary response of institutionalising children who were abandoned/orphaned or neglected. The Tunas Harapan homes adopt a cottage family/home and place 8 to 10 children in the care of married couples or multiple married couples within the age of 40 to 60 years old.

Source: Unsplash

2. Private child care facilities 

There are 90 registered and privately-run institutions housing 4,500 children and 5,850 children with disabilities are placed in one of the 117 registered privately-run institutions[9]. However, there is limited knowledge when it comes to private facilities but what is known is that it is funded by corporations and the facility proactively sought out for children to be placed in the care centres with the assurance of a better quality of life. Even so, the prerequisite of the private sector necessitates that the children should not have challenging behaviours and should be able to perform academically. 

With private facilities run by Muslims, one issue has been raised. With their intention of practising “amal jariah” by caring for the orphans/poor children, they supersede the child’s existing familial ties and make it difficult for the child to return to their biological family upon graduating from the facilities. 

3. Non-profit and community residential care facilities 

The number of non-profit and community child care in Malaysia indicates that the landscape of abandoned, neglected, orphaned children in Malaysia lies heavily on our on-the-ground changemakers. 

There are over 33,000 NGO-run children’s homes that are registered with the Welfare Department; many have been reported to care for children under the age of 5[5]

Dishearteningly, most NGOs are struggling to make ends meet and only 207 facilities benefit from the annual grants provided, which was cited to likely be awarded to faith-based institutions[5].  If benefitted, the grant amount is insufficient and most resort to fundraising and private donors and sponsors. At the same time, religious institutions such as mosques, monasteries, churches are involved in providing care to the children despite zero to no backing from the welfare department[10].

4. Faith-based care services

Interlinked to the religious institution’s involvement in tending to children’s wellbeing, there are also a significant number of NGOs which facilitate faith-based care services in society. This includes tahfiz, sekolah pondok (hut schools) which have created headlines in the past relating to its safety and regulation. At the same time, many Christian-run organisations are operating in Malaysia.

In recent years, there are an increasing number of children enrolling on tahfiz facilities and integrated Islamic schools which allocates more time memorizing the Holy Quran and more religious education. In number, there are at least 900 tahfiz and integrated Islamic schools over the past 6 years[11].  The facilities are not registered as part of care facilities and underprivileged children are often enrolled by the centre as part of “amal jariah”

Source: KHAIRUL NAJIB ASARULAH KHAN, retrieved from New Straits Times

One notable centre, the Pertubuhan Kebajikan Anak Yatim Malaysia (PEYATIM) is one of the largest faith-based associations in Terengganu houses at least 4,000 orphans and needy children in 54 dormitories nationwide. The association is funded mainly by waqaf (an endowment given by a Muslim individual to a religious, educational or charitable cause). 

This article is the first in Wiki Impact’s series to uncover the landscape of institutional care in Malaysia. The series explores the lesser-known details of institutional care: the distinction of different types of safe spaces housing the children and the voices from the ground of caretakers themselves. Finally, the series will cap off with a look into the future of institutional care and the efforts required to safeguard the children’s future.

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Explore our sources:

  1. S. A. Noorshahrizam. (2021). Malaysia’s Covid-19 death toll crosses 28,000 after 69 more fatalities. Malay Mail. Link
  2. Palansamy, Y. (2021, September 22). Covid-19: After losing both parents to coronavirus, many such orphans in Malaysia may also lose their future. Malay Mail. Link
  3. UNICEF (2020). Understanding the Impact of Covid on Vulnerable Children and Families in Malaysia. Link
  4. M.Archer (2013). Preliminary Findings of Survey on Children’s Homes: Family disintegration and institutional care of children in Malaysia. Link
  5. K.Madihi and S. Brubeck. (2019). Malaysia Alternative Care Case Study. Better Care Network. Link
  6. Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat (KPWKM), Malaysia.(2017). Lawyerment Web Guide. Link
  7. Child Act (Act 611). 2001.Link
  8. Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat. (2021). Perkhidmatan Kanak Kanak. Link 
  9. Lumos (2017). Ending Institutionalisation of Children. Lumos. Link
  10. N. Comas and N.A. Anuarul Perai (2016). The ‘third sector’ in Malaysia is very visible but there is no formal description of the sector. Link
  11. T.Leong. (2017). Private Islamic schools mushrooming in Malaysia. The Straits Times. Link

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