KUALA LUMPUR: PPBM has slammed Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid for hitting out at a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report which compared malnutrition and stunted growth among children in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur with the situation in Ghana.
The party’s deputy chairman of strategy and policy bureau, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, said Mahdzir’s reaction to the report was typical of how the federal government reacted to problems faced by the people.
“When a minister in charge of our children’s education denies the findings of independent research by international bodies like Unicef, then we have a problem.
“It is unbelievable that he merely denies the findings using the excuse that his ministry had never received any report from teachers about the problem,” Wan Saiful said in a statement.
The Unicef study on urban child poverty and deprivation had revealed that the prevalence of underweight and stunted children, aged below five, living in low-cost flats in the capital was double the city’s average. It also said the number of overweight children was six times higher.
The study also found children were suffering from wasting — a gradual decrease of the body’s weight, resulting in a person becoming thinner than normal.
The report also noted a high occurrence of obesity, even when compared to countries with the same level of economic wealth as Malaysia.
“For instance, nearly 13% of our children, aged five to 19, are obese, higher than Hungary (11%), Turkey (10%) and Poland (9%).
“In terms of stunting, Malaysian children are worse than Ghana, despite Malaysia’s GDP per capita being six times higher,” the report said.
Following a question from Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar in the Dewan Rakyat, Mahdzir had said there had been no reports from teachers about students going hungry in schools.
“I don’t know how Unicef could come out with such a report and compare us with Ghana. We can see ourselves that there are no children who are malnourished or have stunted growth.
“This is because we have the supplementary food programme that provides for students in need, in both rural and urban schools.
“We also carry out surveys and so far have not found any students going hungry. No such cases have been reported by teachers,” he had said.
Wan Saiful asked Mahdzir if he had even tried to understand the report’s findings.
“About 97% of households surveyed said that high food prices prevented them from preparing healthy meals for their children and over 50% of households did not have enough money to buy food in recent months.
“This means the government’s ‘supplementary food programme’ is neither effective nor complete. Lack of nutrition goes beyond the school meal programme.
“The findings furthermore point to the biggest problem of cost of living and low salaries as parents cannot afford to even buy healthy food for their children even if they wanted to,” said Wan Saiful.
He said Pakatan Harapan (PH), in its manifesto, aimed to introduce a social safety net, with a particular focus in providing targeted assistance to the B40 lower-income group as well as ensuring that basic food and nutritional needs are met.
“We acknowledge the problem rather than deny it as we are committed to providing solutions,” Wan Saiful added.