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Poverty-driven thefts, a sign of bad times

 | December 21, 2016

The recent spate of poverty-driven thefts is a warning that the economic situation is worsening.

COMMENT

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Everyone knows that times are bad, but the recent spate of thefts by parents struggling to feed their children warns us that the situation is getting worse. These people steal to survive.

Last Sunday, a 31-year-old father of three young children was caught stealing food and clothes from a supermarket. It was the latest case of shoplifting driven by desperation.

The incident happened in Iskandar Putri. The stolen items were not high end goods. They were ordinary stuff like frozen food and school shoes and shirts. But they cost more than RM400.

It is apparent that the rising cost of living has driven more people to shoplifting. They cannot afford the high prices. So, in order to feed their children, they steal.

A few years ago, a women’s NGO in Perak predicted that the deepening financial crisis and the increasing number of people being laid off from work would result in a rise in domestic violence, with men taking out their frustrations on their wives and girlfriends.

Someone could well have predicted that parents unable to feed their families would resort to theft.

Last March, a housewife, S Sellamah, was jailed for one day and fined RM200 for lifting a pack of Milo worth about RM33 from a supermarket. She pleaded for the magistrate’s forgiveness. “I stole the Milo because my two-year-old child was pestering me for the drink,” she said.

Two weeks later, in Bukit Mertajam, a young father stole food worth RM27 to feed his three children. His story was even more tragic. His wife had lost a baby during childbirth and was in a coma. He had to take time off from work to look after his children and subsequently lost his job and also his rented home.

Fortunately for him, the store manager took pity on him and offered him a job, and members of the public donated food and offered to pay his rent.

Not every store manager is as considerate or compassionate. Nor should we expect every store to be as sympathetic.
Are we to condone theft by the poor or look for alternative solutions?

The man who stole in Iskandar Putri has worked for the past 13 years as a cook for a government department. Are his wages so low that he is unable to feed for his family? Or is he bad at planning his family budget? Or is he squandering his money on other things, like a high house rental, a car loan or perhaps a drug habit?

Is society doing enough to help the poor? Do we need more soup kitchens in more places?

Jailing this man will place an extra burden on his wife and children. So, what sort of punishment will the courts impose on people like him? These people need help, not punishment.

Are companies doing enough to donate and set up more food banks to help the starving?

Are our welfare officers going out on surveys to determine the number of people needing government aid? Or is our government welfare system unable to lend a helping hand to these desperate parents?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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