Welfare agencies need to do better

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Our hearts go out to Nor Farina Che Ya, a single parent who suffers from chronic diabetes and whose 10-year-old daughter has hypoglycemia. She is one of the many Malaysians whose lives are blighted by increasing cost of living. She sought to stave off the child’s hunger by stealing from a supermarket.

Thankfully, a magistrate in Seremban decided not to jail her. But it took the publicity of her case for the Negeri Sembilan government to step in to provide her with regular aid from the state’s Baitulmal.

An important question remains unanswered: have the nation’s institutions, including the Welfare Department, failed people like Nor Farina, allowing them to slip through the net of the many assistance schemes for the poor?

Nor Farina tries to earn a living by collecting and selling discarded boxes and scrap items. She does receive welfare aid, but the rate of RM150 a month is obviously insufficient for her and her daughter’s needs. Her application for aid from Baitulmal had been rejected.

If the magistrate had not shown compassion, the 38-year-old mother could have been fined, whipped and jailed for up to 10 years.

Her case prompts us to ask: why is the welfare payment so low? Some people spend a good deal more than RM150 for one family dinner. It is time for the Welfare Department to review its rates to reflect current realities.

What about some help from the shariah courts so that a divorced mother is always guaranteed some form of child maintenance from her former husband? Many single mothers allege that the shariah courts are often not tough enough with their former husbands. Many get away without paying alimony or child maintenance.

Why had Nor Farina’s Baitulmal application been rejected? How is she to survive and bring up her child? Is it any wonder that many Muslims seek help from non-Muslim charity organisations?

With the deepening financial crisis and more people losing employment, will more women who are unable to feed their families resort to theft?

Do the police statistics show an increase in the theft of food? If there is an increase, when did it start? Has the implementation of the GST contributed towards the rise? From their interrogations, have the police compiled the reasons for the theft of food? Is poverty contributing to the rise in this particular offence?

Nor Farina’s plight, as a struggling single mother, is common enough in Malaysia. What is the government’s plan to help the thousands of people like her? What lessons can we learn from her experience?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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