KUALA LUMPUR, August 23 — One in five Malaysian children under five are stunted, higher than countries with similar gross domestic product (GDP), according to United Nations (UN) human rights expert Philip Alston.
Stunting, one of the key markers of malnutrition, is very likely to be experienced by children born into lower income families. A study in Kelantan found that children in food-insecure households were three times more likely to be stunted.
“The child poverty rate in Malaysia is three times the national poverty rate, yet the government does not appear to have an adequate support system for addressing child poverty.
“Unicef found that the Department of Social Welfare’s Children’s Financial Assistance scheme is particularly inadequate, with coverage declining since 2013 to just 69,000 children in 2019, out of 160,000 below the national poverty line and 1.8 million who would be considered poor under a contextually appropriate poverty line,” said Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, in a report on his mission to Malaysia.
Related to this is the problem of child marriages. Poverty is a widely recognized driver of child marriage which is used as a coping mechanism for poor families in Malaysia. This in turn has severe implications, including elevated risks of health problems and loss of education.
Malaysia has registered about 15,000 marriages involving children over the past decade, with Muslim girls allowed to marry before age of 16 with permission from a Syariah court judge.
The UN Special Rapporteur traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sarawak, Sabah, and Kelantan during his visit to Malaysia from last August 13 to 23, and met state and federal Government officials, international agencies, civil society, academics, and people affected by poverty in urban and rural areas.