“I tell mummy…No don’t go!”
“Saya scared! I menjalankan…” then she got distracted and trailed off elsewhere.
It was a brief encounter. She was desperately convincing my friends to buy roses from her at Bukit Bintang. She had roses in her left hand and holding on to her younger brother with her right. Surprisingly all I did was ask her why she was there all alone at night, with no shoes, selling roses on a very busy street. I did not get any answers that night, neither did I know who gave her the roses to sell or why.
I was left with so many questions in my mind, and each time the visual image of the young girl and her brother returned to me, I was saddened and my eyes watered. This wasn’t something I saw often, and it was a cold reality that I didn’t know how to handle.
For days I kept thinking about the many disadvantaged children around us, and the little attention they get from us. I came across a couple of videos on YouTube about street children in Malaysia and the circumstances that got them there, but there was little else information available. This encouraged me to want to voice out and let people see and know the issues and problems these invisible children faced. I discovered that many people don’t consider the fact that most of the ‘disadvantaged children’ in homes or in shelters don’t only need money or food, rather it is more than just these contributions. We also need to train them to not be physically and mentally affected by the situations that they are placed or left to be in.
According to the free dictionary by Farlex the term ‘disadvantaged’ means being deprived of some of the basic necessities or advantages of life. But to me when I think of ‘disadvantaged children’, I also look at it in terms of children without maternal love, the mentally challenged, those from broken families, underprivileged children and physically abused children. Being disadvantaged doesn’t specifically have to mean not having a family around you or a roof over your head! You may have all that, yet not have someone pay attention to you, or being neglected by society in ways that can affect your way of thinking as a child.
Photo Credit: Dark-q Photography
A post at theasianparent.com claims that more than 18,600 girls below the age of 19 gave birth to babies last year. As you can see from the statistics, this number is very large and considering the age brackets, “below the age of 19,” it gives clues as to how the young mothers would handle the pregnancy. According to teenage-pregnancy.org, once a teenage girl discovers she’s pregnant the first reaction is ‘Panic!’ followed by questions like, “Should I abort? Should I keep it?” and so on and so forth. Now consider Malaysia, a country where culture and religion dominates everyone’s ways of thinking and behavior. Do you think these young teenagers even have the time to think about how to take care of their babies and give them their due care?
In a society where culture and religion molds ways of thinking and analyzing situations, an unplanned pregnancy outside of wedlock is not something easily accepted. These attitudes leave a very negative impact on the young babies/children who are sometimes dumped and left for dead. The neglected children are separated from society, not accepted, cast away and labeled. As a result they grow up bitter towards themselves, towards society and also towards people who offer them a helping hand. Their situations force them to build a wall around themselves where they tend to get defensive and act in any kind of way just to quench their hollow hearts. This way of thinking and acting has multiple consequences yet these children feel it’s very justifiable for them to act in this way as they feel unloved, unwanted and less important in their own society.
Have you ever taken time and thought about the mentally challenged children in Malaysia? Did you ever think of them being “disadvantaged” as well, despite their nature and how they naturally are? This particular group of children crossed my mind and I needed to know how normal teenagers and grown-ups think of these children and what they have to say about them. I came across a young lady by the name of Trecia and her response was very interesting. She told me how in this country, people don’t really pay much attention to such cases and when such a case happens in a family, they find that they have no knowledge about what to do and how to handle the matter. However, she was saddened by how people lack educational awareness on “mentally challenged children” and hoped that more emphasis would be put on educating individuals about them. This to me concluded that society and its members in it are being ignorant about such children because it doesn’t affect them or anyone around them. This is a very difficult situation for the mentally challenged; they are neglected by society, in addition to being ignored, sometimes they are even forced to act as a normal child just to avoid embarrassing the family. These types of behaviors are very demoralizing for the child and worsens the child’s mental situation, which could lead to deeper complications.
After getting absolutely zero responses after canvassing the streets of Kuala Lumpur for people’s opinions on the matter, it came to my attention that news outlets both print and online don’t really put much emphasis on mentally challenged children or even the importance of educating and highlighting this problem, and what solution can be brought about. Don’t you feel that it’s only fair to know more about this condition and put weight on how ignorance can cause problems and demoralize the children?
Photo Credit: Dark-q Photography
Another major problem that places children in ‘disadvantaged’ situations are children who come from ‘broken families’.
Through my own personal experience and from what I have seen out there, I believe if they don’t get attention they tend to be placed in very difficult situations which results into major inclination in their self-esteem and self-worth. Most of the children are vulnerable to a lot of situations; they go through sexual abuse, emotional distress, and anti-social behavior and are made to feel unworthy and responsible for the situation that they are in. A child from a broken family lives a life like walking in a down town alley, there is clear path yet they are limited and are allowed to only see what they are meant to see and believe. All this distress and pressures at a young age may lead to these children opting for other ways to release their stress or find peace and belonging in the wrong places. For example: taking up drugs, prostitution, and vandalism. That is why more attention should be given to these children and not just sporadic offers of food and money from time to time.
The few examples that I mentioned here are some of what constitutes ‘disadvantaged children in Malaysia’. There are many more problems brought about by different situations that these young children are placed in. It is up to us, as individuals to try and make a change or bring about a difference towards these children and create a better environment for them. I am frequently reminded of my favourite saying: “young children are like onions, you have to peel the upper layer of the skin to know how strong the child is and to what extent they can prove to you and themselves as individuals.”
Therefore, we shouldn’t neglect small cases which to us may seem very irrelevant but to a child may make a difference. We should restructure our society’s ways of thinking and make sure that children and the mothers who at times are made victims, are educated on the importance of loving and giving time and comfort to those who least get it. Furthermore, we should all come together as a whole and try to make an impact on a young child’s life by filling them with more love.
Photo Credit: Dark-q Photography
Edited for ISSUE Magazine by Lutfi Hakim.