Provide Childcare Allowance To All Mothers To Curb Child Malnutrition And Stunting — Dr Amar-Singh HSS

Dr Amar-Singh HSS supports UNICEF’s proposed childcare allowance for mothers from birth until the child reaches two years of age, but calls for it to be made available to all mothers, regardless of poverty levels, to curb child malnutrition and stunting.

We are grateful that UNICEF has continued to monitor the situation pf low-income households within PPR communities in KL. 

The most recent survey by UNICEF, “Living on the Edge”, shows that the situation is still dire. While there have been some small improvements in monthly household incomes and unemployment rates since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, household poverty rates remain high at 41 per cent. 

The spiralling costs of basic food items and needs means that these increases are insufficient to keep up with inflation.

Of serious concern is that 95 per cent of children live in relative poverty, with 40 per cent living below the poverty line. It is extremely worrying that one of two households say their kids eat less than three times a day. 

It is important to note that all households with persons with disabilities, especially as heads of households, fared the worst. 

This extremely high poverty rate will hit the children the hardest. Poverty is especially devastating for children, as they are the most vulnerable to its effects. Most children who live in poverty will become permanently stunted due to malnutrition. 

This means that the child will not be able to attain their potential adult height, and also implies smaller brains with potentially poorer cognitive development and reduced productivity. 

There is data to show that chronic malnutrition and stunting, directly or indirectly, increase childhood mortality with irreversible long-term health morbidity, not to mention education inequalities as a consequence of poverty. 

We are effectively keeping these children in a lifetime poverty trap, perpetuating the cycle of poverty into the next generation.

To overcome the poverty trap faced by low-income households at PPR communities, we require short-term and long-term solutions. The recommendations made by UNICEF are meaningful. 

In the short term, they require daily food and financial assistance, and this cannot be confined to the hardcore poor. 

UNICEF’s suggestion of a childcare allowance for mothers from birth until the child reaches two years of age is vital, but should be made available to all mothers, whether in serious or relative poverty. 

The childcare allowance should not just be from birth, but starts when the mother becomes pregnant, as malnutrition in pregnancy is where the stunting of children begins.

In addition, all persons with disabilities living in poverty will require an allowance to support the family.  

The key useful long-term measure is structural reforms, i.e. to work on poverty reduction (achieving the United Nations’ SDG Goals One and Two). Raising the minimum wage to RM2,102 from the current RM1,500 is vital as part of this reform.

The government needs to be committed to ending child poverty and malnutrition, not just with inner-city families, but also with indigenous, rural, and stateless children. 

We have yet to hear more about national strategic plans to combat malnutrition among children. If we leave one child behind, we fail all children. 

Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a consultant paediatrician and child and disability activist.

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