By investing in alternative childcare options, we can address the shortage of registered childcare centres in Malaysia and provide more choices for parents. Ultimately, this will benefit not only the children but also working mothers who may struggle to balance their careers with caregiving responsibilities.
Access to quality pre-school childcare can play an important role in a child’s development. Quality childcare can provide children with opportunities to learn, develop social skills and build self-esteem. It can also support parents in their parenting role and help build a strong parent-child relationship.
Motherhood begins with much hope and anticipation, but for many Malaysian women, the happiness is often short-lived and interrupted too quickly by harsh challenges and uncertainties.
While the physical demands of pregnancy, childbirth and caring for a newborn are sometimes compared to climbing Mount Everest, recovery from childbirth can be slow and difficult, especially if there were complications during the birth. But it is the transition from working woman to working mom that presents mothers with insurmountable obstacles.
Returning to work after having a baby requires finding suitable childcare, which can be expensive and difficult to organise. Apart from the fact that some mothers have to adjust their working hours to organise childcare (which can be challenging if their employer is not flexible), licensed childcare options are not accessible to all.
Unlike the career progress of men, who are hardly affected by the addition of a newborn to their family, Malaysian women find it difficult to rejoin the workforce without support. Society often places the brunt of care work on women and they are expected to adjust their careers for family life and children.
This unique-to- women predicament is also reflected in the statistics. Despite being the most educated demographic, the female labor force participation rate remains abysmally low recording at only 56.0 percent (as of January 2023), especially when compared to the 82.9 percent of our male counterparts.
Shortage of Childcare Centers
As specified in Section 2 of Act 308, childcare centers are defined as any premises that take in four or more children under the age of four in exchange for payments.
While proximity and economics are critical factors in determining the accessibility of childcare, actual availability must not be discounted. It is no secret that registered childcare are in short supply. According to the DOSM, there are only about 5,445 registered childcare centres in Malaysia, which is far from the recommended number of 38,333.
The problem of childcare centers in Malaysia is twofold. Not only is finding a registered childcare center exceedingly difficult, the scarcity of centers also leads to overcrowding.
Research has long established that play is an irreplaceable component in the healthy development of a child’s cognitive, emotional and motor skills. Children placed in overcrowded centres are often at risk of injuries as they are prone to bumping into furniture or each other. Therefore, it is important that they have enough space to move and move around during playtime.
Moreover, overcrowded venues are often breeding grounds for infectious diseases. One of the most common outbreaks due to overcrowding is hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD), to which children are particularly susceptible. The disease, a viral infection caused by a coxsackievirus, is usually transmitted through direct contact with fluids from the rash of an infected person.
Despite various national initiatives to improve the availability and accessibility of childcare services, including mandating childcare centres in government offices and substantial subsidies, the fact remains that our childcare sector remains severely underdeveloped.
Since Act 308 provides an escape clause whereby premises caring for three or fewer children are exempted from registering with the authorities, unregistered childcare options will stay prevalent.
However, instead of closing this ‘loophole’, prudent minds would advocate for increased investments into these community and home-based childcare services. This means streamlining oversight, providing funding, and most importantly, investing in training for these unregistered childcare providers. In this way, we not only create a safer environment for our children, but also give more people who care about childcare the empowerment they need to run a successful business from home.
They say it takes a village to raise a child.
So, let us build this village we all need together.