How can speaker reject debate on child poverty, asks Santiago

Klang MP Charles Santiago is upset that the Dewan Rakyat speaker rejected a motion to debate the poverty and malnutrition among children in low-cost housing areas. (Reuters pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: An opposition MP has expressed shock over the Dewan Rakyat speaker’s decision to reject a motion to debate the poverty and malnutrition among children living in low-cost housing areas in Kuala Lumpur, as recently reported by Unicef.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said it should be the country’s top priority as the report stated that one in five children was growing at a slower rate compared to children in Thailand, while eight out of 10 families did not have even RM1 in savings.

“The Unicef report demonstrates the failure of public policy in providing a better quality of life for urban poor families.

“It is unacceptable to object (to a motion on the matter),” he said during a press conference at the Dewan Rakyat media centre today.

The study by the United Nations agency titled “Children Without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur” found that almost all children (99.7%) in low-cost flats in the capital city lived in relative poverty while 7% lived in absolute poverty.

The percentage of those suffering from problems linked to malnutrition was said to be alarming.

Santiago said the statistics quoted in the report were cause for concern and raised various other issues on children not having access to basic education because their parents could not afford it.

“Parents who can’t make rent due to relative and absolute poverty, lack of space in low-cost, high-rise flats for kids to play, and poor maintenance are among other pressing issues.”

Santiago said Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia explained that various government agencies were already studying the report done by Unicef, an international body that looks into the rights of children.

“He does not see the urgency to debate the Unicef report. The speaker should consider a one-day debate on child poverty,” the MP said.

Santiago said it had been 10 days since the report was published, but all the federal territories ministry had said was that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) provided safe and conducive housing services to residents while denying that it had been negligent.

The DAP MP also called for a Child Poverty Act to be enacted under a Child Poverty Commission, which could be the principal adviser to the government.

“The commission must look at the root causes of child poverty, including economic opportunities for families to ensure that they can earn adequate income and build assets that will enable them to avoid poverty and its risk factors.”

Santiago said the nation might have to deal with dying children if the issue is prolonged.

BN MPs to raise issue

In an immediate response, Johor Bahru MP Shahrir Samad said the MPs could bring up the issue during their debates at the Dewan Rakyat, which BN MPs would be doing.

“I have met Unicef reps. The measurement was carried out through a multi-dimensional system and not based only on income.

“We are not in denial. We cannot be negative towards research. Such reports are encouraged as it would allow the Economic Planning Unit to look into the matter further.”

Shahrir, who is also Felda chairman, said he hoped Unicef would carry out a similar study on low-cost flats in his constituency and in Felda settlements.

“Even though they are poor as stated in the Unicef report, their academic achievements are the same as the national level.”

He added that as the country progresses, there would be people who would fall into the poverty trap and the government would continue to upgrade their living conditions.

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