After achieving independence in 1957, the Malaysian government has maintained a laissez-faire approach. To an extent, this approach was successful as the country’s GDP grew by 4.1 percent from 1956 to 1960, 5.0 percent from 1961 to 1965 and 5.4 percent from 1966 to 1970. However, despite these positive trends, economic disparity continued to persist.
The UNDP 1997 Human Development Report and the U.N.’s 2004 Human Development Report (UNHDP) both found that Malaysia has the highest income gap between the wealthy and poor in Southeast Asia (including Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines). The UNDP’s research also found that the richest 10 percent in Malaysia earn 38.4 percent of the nation’s wealth. In comparison, the poorest 10 percent only control 1.7 percent.
Impact of Income Inequality in Malaysia on Children
This level of income inequality Malaysia has an especially concerning impact on children. UNICEF warns that the widening gap between the poorest and richest 20 percent has implications on child development, protection, participation and survival. Dr. Alberto Minujin, Professor at The New School and at Columbia University explains that children experience poverty differently than adults. They are especially vulnerable to certain types of deprivation and even short-term destitution can result in long-term effects. For instance, malnourishment can influence a child’s health and ability to perform well in school. This in turn would negatively affect their long term health and education.
Hans Singer, who works for the U.N.’s Economic Affairs Department, explains that investing in children would actually help the economy. In his study, “The Role of Children in Economic Development,” Hans found that malnutrition was a factor in low productivity in developing countries. Therefore, development initiatives focused on the wellbeing of children would further spur the economy and potentially shrink Malaysia’s income gap.
On a national level, UNICEF Malaysia has been supporting the government to implement development initiatives to improve the well-being of children and improve inclusivity. Initiatives range from promoting equity to strengthening national policies to establishing social services to child-focused social inclusion and disparity reduction.
Recent Legislation Protecting Children
One of the organization’s achievements was the enactment of the Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017. This piece of legislation allows for the advancement in the protection of children from sexual crimes. UNICEF Malaysia programme priorities match the goals of UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional Headline Results. This means they focus on protecting children from both online and offline sexual exploitation, abuse and violence, fighting harmful practices against girls, strengthening civil registration and increasing access to justice and family-based care.
On a global level, UNICEF has also launched several development initiatives for the benefit of Malaysia’s children. In the 1980s and 1990s, the organization formulated the First Call for Children concept, which mandates that “children’s priority needs should have a first call on resources.” In addition, UNICEF established the 20/20 principle — a new initiative to restructure existing spending methods, rather than adding additional funds, to maximize current resources. The idea was that both donor and developing countries would contribute 20 percent of their national public expenditures to basic needs including primary health care, primary education, clean water and reproductive health in hopes of achieving greater global collaboration for a good cause.
– Iris Gao