Children of ‘heroes’ treated unfairly in new childcare guidelines

Just two days ago, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin described the health personnel and other frontliners nationwide as “our national heroes”.

He spoke about their invaluable and immense sacrifices for the nation and the risks they were taking by being on the front line of the pandemic.

He was speaking not just of professionals such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers, but also of the police, armed forces, food delivery drivers, supermarket workers, restaurant cooks, security guards, cleaners, garbage collectors and many others who protect us and keep our nation functioning in this time of crisis.

It is hence extremely painful to read the updated Taska guidelines/SOP from the women, family and community development ministry.

In Appendix 12, Section 2.1.2, it reads “Anak-anak frontliners adalah berisiko tinggi untuk mendapat jangkitan daripada ibu bapa mereka. Tempat yang paling selamat untuk anak-anak ini adalah penjagaan di rumah. Walau bagaimanapun, sekiranya anak-anak petugas frontliners dihantar ke taska, mereka perlu diasingkan daripada anak-anak yang lain.”

This means, children of frontliners sent to childcare centres or nurseries will be separated from other children.

This SOP, revised on May 22, was circulated by welfare ministry officers. We have confirmed with sources in the ministry that this is an official revised edition.

In essence, this statement is a “slap in the face” for all the frontliners in the country. It communicates the message that “yes, we want your hard work, sacrifices and the risks to your own health and that of your family, but we are not going to be there for your children”. Your children are “contaminated” and should be segregated, preferably not even welcome to a nursery or childcare centre.

The very individuals who desperately require childcare, so that they can serve us at this critical time, are being denied this. We wonder if the health ministry (MoH) was consulted regarding such a policy decision?

It looks like frontliners will have to walk around like lepers of old with bells around their necks to warn everyone or shout out “unclean”.

That such a policy statement can come from the women, family and community development ministry is of concern. This ministry should be protecting the rights of all children and their parents, not eroding them and sending a message of non-inclusion and segregation.

What message are we giving to the public at large about all frontliners? Are we to shun them in all contexts like outcasts? Such thinking can easily spread to other areas. It also speaks of the way we have treated our migrant workers, their families and children recently, even after their services to our nation.

We appeal to the prime minister to please urgently rectify this unfair decision by the women’s ministry and bring back inclusion to our nursery and childcare centres. Frontliners will continue to serve the nation. Please support our children and families and treat them with dignity.

This letter is signed by 250 paediatricians and is supported by the Malaysian Paediatric Association.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.