To our Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Dear Datuk Seri,
We are readers of the site makchic.com, and mothers of Malaysia. Recently, we were so disturbed by cases affecting children and families that we wanted to write to you. Two cases – the death of 5-month-old Adam Rayqal Mohd Sufi, who was found dead inside a refrigerator at his babysitter’s house; and the marriage between a 11-year old girl and a man 30 years her senior – have completely saddened, upset, and angered us. More recently, a 10-month-old baby boy died in Johor after having fallen in his babysitter’s house.
In essence, these cases highlight various issues, concerns and challenges that mothers, families, women and especially children, go through in varying degrees every single day. Mothers are guardians and nurturers of our own children, but we deeply feel the need to stand up and protect the children, women and families of this nation – especially those who are less able to fight for their own rights.
We have been happy, enthused and hopeful that you are this country’s first woman Deputy Prime Minister. We have also been heartened that you, your deputy and other government leaders have affirmed your commitment to look into these issues, such as the move to set up child day-care centres at government agencies by January 1, and the special committee to monitor babysitters.
When we were asked about matters we wanted to bring to your attention, more than 80 of us took the time to write in and give our views.
We respectfully urge you as minister to consider the following points on the issues we feel strongly about that will come under your care.
Affordable and Safe Childcare
Mothers want affordable and safe childcare centres and options for working mothers, whether in government service or the private sector.
- Many mothers expressed the wish to continue breastfeeding their children as long as possible, and this required adequate support, regulations and childcare facilities.
- Most mothers want childcare centres or crèches within or near their work offices.
- They want government subsidies for childcare fees, and subsidies or financial incentives for employers who have on-site crèches.
- Mothers are aware that incomes determine what childcare options parents have. “Sadly, good ones are usually costly, so parents opt for kakak pengasuh or unlicensed childcare providers,” said Iryani Lob.
- They also pointed out childcare centres’ opening hours. Mum Siti Nur Diyana Mohd Radzi pointed out: “Sometimes due to work conditions, parents will be late picking up the child from nursery and have to pay higher fees – this makes finding a ‘neighbourhood and flexible’ nanny more appealing.” Other mothers pointed out that there were those who worked shift hours, for example those who worked in retail and customer service or hotels.
- Mothers also want a suitable ratio for the number of carers per child, depending on age and setting.
- Some mothers also requested that CCTVs be installed or provided in childcare centres, so they would be able to monitor their children from time to time.
Trained and Qualified Childcare Practitioners
“How many more cases such as the 5-month-old baby Adam do we have to wake up to read in the news? It’s devastating, horrific!” – Farisya Syamin Zulkifli
“Enforcement almost doesn’t seem to exist. This is key to act as a deterrent.” – Jane Lucia
- Mothers wanted anyone working with children – whether in nurseries, schools, welfare homes or in any other capacity – to have proper criminal background checks. This should be required by law for the safety of all children in Malaysia.
- Mothers wanted all nurseries and childcare centres to be monitored by a statutory body or regulatory authority for childminding and childcare, such as the United Kingdom’s Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) inspectors.
- These child carers or centres would thus all have a rating, face surprise and regular inspections, and all their staff would have to be properly security-checked, qualified and trained, especially in matters like CPR, First Aid and fire safety.
- Some mothers also requested that there be more certificate in childcare courses or workshops so childminders and even mothers themselves could benefit from this training.
Employers in the Private Sector
Some mothers clearly felt strongly about this topic. One said she felt like it was a “sin to be a mother”, the way they were treated at work. “We feel that the management regrets taking us moms as engineers in the company. The management doesn’t understand that we sometimes need to attend to our kids when our kids need to be sent to the clinic, because the nurseries call us when they are not feeling well. How can we progress in our career when management treats us like we only slow the progress of the project?”
- Mothers wanted the government to encourage corporations to subsidise childcare or to compel them to institute family-friendly working options for mothers.
- Many mothers had many requests for more flexible work arrangements, such as shorter or flexi-working hours. Mothers wanted employers not to penalise them if they asked for flexible arrangements, such as lesser pay for lesser hours spent in the office. “But workload and responsibilities (will) not change,” a mother said.
- Other mothers said they would appreciate being able to work from home several days in a month. Others asked for half-days at work or half-week options for mothers. Some urged the government to institute legislation that ensure working mothers had a guaranteed job upon return from maternity leave.
- Mother Aisya M. said: “I wish companies will be more pro-family, especially for mothers. Provide space for nurseries, they may opt to subsidise or not – as long as my child is near to me, I don’t mind paying.”
- Mostly, mothers wanted empathy and understanding about having a work-life balance. A mother asked for there to be an enforcement about work hours, as many workers tended to stay much longer than the normal working hours of 9 to 5pm. One mother said: “I come in at 7am daily. Official work hours start at 8.30am, ends at 5.45pm. But I still can’t leave early, even though I come in early.”
- There were also some mentions of employer understanding when mothers and fathers had to bring their children to the clinic or hospital, some urging companies not to ‘cut their wage or leave’ if this happens. A mother said: “My baby was admitted for a week, and my annual leave was not enough, and they made me take unpaid leave – this affected our financial situation.”
- Some mothers also wanted the government and employers to consider family leave or similar options, as many had to care for other elderly or ill family members, as well as children with special needs.
Children’s Rights – End Child Marriages
- Our mothers want enforced laws about early child marriage and stringent punishment for paedophiles and equivalent offenders.
- “Standardise the law. Anyone who wants to marry (Muslim or non-Muslim) must be 18 years old and above in Malaysia regardless of your nationality, otherwise the marriage is considered void,” mum Najila Suhana said.
- Mothers wanted severe punishment and tighter regulations and procedural examinations for child abuse and similar crimes against children.
- They urge the government to work towards having laws, policies, systems, and practices that promote children’s rights as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
- Mothers want a sexual offender registration list implemented in Malaysia. Mother Adelina Hayden suggested that we should look into legislation in line with ‘Adam’s Law’ in the United States. In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was signed into law in the US, creating a national sexual offender registry that organised sexual offenders into 3 tiers, and requires offenders to update their whereabouts.
- Several mothers wanted a ban on marriages in neighbouring countries. “This issue has been going on for ages, but nothing has been done.”
- Offenders should also be charged for grooming a child. Social services and welfare authorities must step in when a complaint has been made, and restraining orders placed if required, said mother Belinda D.
Maternity & Paternity Leave
“It’s time to acknowledge fathers as being able to care for babies. It’s 2018.” – Dini Nadzaruddin
“A lot of modern day parents only have each other.”
- Overall, mothers were vocal about the need for longer maternity leave. They said it should be longer than the current 60 days given as they wanted to spend time with their young babies. “Will the 90 days maternity leave which was announced by the previous government going to be implemented? If yes, when?” asked one mother.
- Some mothers requested that maternity leave be increased, with full pay for up to 6 months leave, or for 3 months split between the mother and father. “This will bring the family closer by giving both parents a chance to bond with their children.”
- Mothers were also firm in their demands for paternity leave, some sharing their experiences. “My husband only got one day (of) leave after my delivery (we’re both working in private sector),” said Afiqah Zulkifli. “For some reason, we forget about the fathers. I think fathers also need longer leave. Mothers need a lot of support from their husband while they recover from giving birth especially those without support from family or those who cannot afford help,” said Jihan Razak.
Unsurprisingly, mothers were concerned about the education their children received in schools. They also wanted their children armed with knowledge about sex, grooming, and how to protect themselves.
- Across the board, our mothers said it was important for Malaysia to include sex education in schools. “They deserve a right to know, for the sake of their future … (It) is not encouraging our kids to have sex, it is quite the opposite. The more they know, the more likely they say no,” a mother said.
- Some mothers urged the government to provide education and awareness, or conduct campaigns about sexual grooming in rural areas. “(This is) so people understand it is not a norm for your girls to be deprived of their virginity without even being old enough to understand their self-worth and what sexual intercourse in a marriage means.”
- There were mothers who spoke about the importance of lessons on gender equality. Some said that their husbands were still ignorant about household chores, and that this role still fell heavily on women’s shoulders. A mother said it was important to educate boys from an early age that looking after a household was a job for both sexes, and they could be taught how to cook, sweep floors or fold clothes. “I believe school is the best platform to deliver this. Perhaps they can include this in co-curricular programmes,” she said.
- Most of all, mothers wanted a great education system overall for their children. They wanted higher quality teachers and educators. Some noted the importance of early childhood education. “If ‘children are the future’ then we have to be serious about investing in early childhood care and education”, said a mother.
Mental Health Awareness and Education
- Mothers wanted more attention paid to women’s mental health. They wanted compulsory postpartum check-ups by doctors for mothers’ well-being.
- Some mothers pointed out that they had experienced the ‘baby blues’. They wanted the government to have classes or support for all mothers after birth, so they could recognise and seek help for postpartum depression.
Children with Special Needs
- Some mothers wanted primary schools to work closely with child psychiatrists and occupational therapists so they could identify and deal with children with learning difficulties and special needs.
- A mother said: “My 7-year-old daughter could not cope with mainstream school stress and requirements due to her developmental delay problem even after 2 years of occupational therapy. Right now, her teachers do not even know what developmental delay is.”
- Ng Tze Yeng said there should be the regulation of service providers such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists. “They need to work closely with the Ministry of Health. A lot of damage may be done to kids by unethical practitioners.”
Single-mothers and lower-income mothers
- Knowing how tough motherhood and parenting is, our mothers called for more benefits and support for single mothers and those from lower-income groups. These mothers should be given free day care options, or provided mentoring or counselling sessions to support their emotional and mental wellbeing.
- “Their kids should have equal opportunities and be well taken care of. These kids are the ones usually forgotten and sucked into the loopholes of sex abuse and unprotected sex. Moms of this spectrum struggle to make ends meet,” a mother said.
- Our mothers noted that Malaysia offers few protections for refugees, and it is often children who bear the brunt of restrictions on education, work and the fear of arrest.
- They called on the government to sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention or enact laws or policies to ensure the rights of refugees, and to ensure they lead better lives in the country. This is so that families “escaping their war-torn homes and seeking refuge in Malaysia do not have to live in poverty, extortion, and fear of raids and detention.”
More Women in Government
As one of our mothers put it: “(We need) more women in the government who can put themselves in other women’s shoes, so they can make and insist (for) better policies for women!”
Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, we thank you very much for your attention to this letter from mothers. We are excited about your leadership of this ministry, and are optimistic about the future. We hope you will consider these points that have come from our hearts, and carry our hopes for a country where all women, families and children are safe, supported and thriving.
Makchic readers – mothers of Malaysia