The Welfare Department, too, needs to play a proactive role. It must work with other government authorities to think through strategies to increase childcare centres to the national requirement of at least 38,000. (NSTP Archive)

THERE is irony in their name. Many childcare centres, it appears, don’t really “care” about the children sent there. Unscrupulous operators of such centres see opportunities in parents’ desperate search for minders.

And home-based babysitters, too, are joining the rush for the ringgit by taking in more children than they can mind.

The end result is often tragic: deaths or injuries that change the lives of the children forever. And the lives of parents too. Like in many other things, issues related to childcare cannot and must not be solved on a piecemeal basis as we are prone to do.

Approaching the childcare issue from the national perspective is the best way forward. Picture this. Malaysia has 2.3 million children aged 4 and below, which means there is a need for 38,333 childcare centres.

But the Welfare Department statistics tell us a dismal story: there are only 4,302 registered childcare centres throughout the country. Perhaps it is time to get companies with a certain manpower strength to set up childcare centres. Companies with a good bottom line may want to consider subsidies as part of their remuneration package.

If the government can do this, most certainly companies can. There is a role here for the community too.

Residents in housing areas can through the residents’ association set up childcare centres to cater to their needs. Most often, national problems are best handled locally. Better still, housing developers should be required by law to build childcare centres, the number being dependent on the size of the housing estate. A law on minimum standards for housing and amenities will help.

The Welfare Department, too, needs to play a proactive role. It must work with other government authorities to think through strategies to increase childcare centres to the national requirement of at least 38,000. This may appear as a task beyond the Welfare Department’s remit. Not so. Minding the business of the nation’s children is after all part of the business chain of welfare services. The department must also seek to understand why childcare centres and home-based babysitters are not registering. A few of the unregistered centres do face genuine problems, such as meeting the minimum legal wage of RM1,050 with the RM300 fees per child paid by parents. Such centres cut corners by hiring untrained childminders for much less, thus breaking the law in the process.

Clearly, affordability is an issue as the cost of living goes up faster than our ambling wages. Even two parents’ pay packets are not enough to make ends meet. Call it the growing pains of a nation on the cusp of becoming a developed nation. We are therefore in dire need of a national strategy on childcare. If we believe that children are a valuable asset with which to build a great nation, then we cannot leave childcare issues to the market to solve them. Childcare is too precious to be left to the forces of supply and demand. Or in the hands of helpless parents alone. Childcare is a national issue and as such the government must help the country chart a course out of it.

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