RIGHT after returning home from school, children of PPR Desa Rejang, Kuala Lumpur ran to a junk food stall at the entrance of their home and treated themselves to lollipops and other snacks.
Their parents, who were nearby or had accompanied their children from school, allowed them to have the snacks.
When asked by StarMetro on why they allowed their children to eat unhealthy food, they said they could not afford to provide their children with nutritious food.
Other parents spoken to also attributed this to lack of knowledge on what food was good for their children.
The parents were interviewed following a new Unicef study which revealed that children living in low-cost housing, such as PPR flats, suffered higher levels of malnutrition and had fewer education opportunities compared with the national average.
Produced by DM Analytics, the study carried out in 2017 surveyed close to 1,000 households with children in PPR housing in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
Titled “Children Without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur”, the study highlighted that poverty impaired the education opportunities of children living in flats, making them vulnerable to malnourishment.
While the national poverty rate was less than 1%, the report stated that 99.7% of the children in low-cost flats lived in relative poverty with 7% in absolute poverty.
The study also found 15% of children below the age of five years in the PPR flats were underweight while 22% had stunted growth, which was almost two times higher compared with the Kuala Lumpur average.
About 23% of the children in PPR flats were either overweight or obese, six times higher compared with the Kuala Lumpur average of 4%.
The study also found that while almost all children aged between seven and 17 went to school, only 50% of five- to six-year-olds attended pre-school compared to 92% national enrolment in 2015.
What the parents say
Kayalvizhi Ramudu, 30, said her husband’s monthly salary of between RM1,500 and RM2,000, was not enough to provide healthy food for her two children.
“The curry I make today will last our family for three days,” said Kayalvizhi, who has been living at PPR Desa Rejang for three years.
She added that the money she saved from spending less on food would go towards paying the utility bills.
Kayalvizhi, who has school-going children including a mentally disabled child, cannot provide them with chicken, fish or cereals every day.
“Groceries are more expensive than before, so I will normally buy cheap canned food and some vegetables to cook for my family,” she added.
Muhd Nasir Sakaranin, 42, said that public amenities such as clinics, schools and a market located around PPR Desa Rejang, made it convenient for them to live there.
“Residents at this PPR can always buy fresh seafood at the market here but I seldom see people buying them, maybe because they cannot afford it,” said Nasir, who is a hotel chef.
A resident from PPR Kampung Baru Air Panas, Kuala Lumpur, who wanted to be known only as Mala, said she had to struggle to raise her five children on a monthly salary of RM1,000 as a cleaner.
“Half of my salary goes to pay for rent. The other RM500 has to be used for my children’s school expenses, food and for emergency purposes,” said the 43-year-old.
“I will buy one kilogramme of chicken only during Deepavali every year. Apart from that, we normally eat rice and fried egg but sometimes I buy salted fish for the children.
“I am aware that children need more nutrition than adults, but as a single mother I can only feed them with what I can afford to buy.”
Besides the government’s RM100 yearly aid to students, Mala said the family did not receive any other help, so she ran her household on a very tight budget.
Hasimah Wahab was the main provider for her family of 14 for years, eking out a living by selling nasi lemak and kuih near her flat in PPR Section 8 Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya.
“I was able to earn between RM30 and RM50 on a good day. When it rained, I could not sell anything so that means I could not put much food on the table,” she said, adding that her husband sometimes gave money from his job as a security guard.
“Our household gets about RM500 per month from zakat contributions and two of my grandchildren get schooling aid.
“We need to pay RM400 per month for rent and utility. The zakat contribution we get for household groceries lasts just a few days as we have a large family,” said the 55-year-old.
There are 14 occupants in Hasimah’s flat, comprising eight adults and six children. Two of her children who should be attending kindergarten are not sent as Hasimah is unable to afford their pre-school education.
Their meals are typically rice with eggs, and sometimes a vegetable.
“If we are lucky, there will be non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that donate food supplies or groceries, which help supplement our meals,” said Hasimah.
“However, I have not been feeling well enough to go to work for the past few weeks due to my diabetes and high blood pressure. I have to rely on my two daughters, who just started working.”
Mother of two, Khaterina Khalid, 45, said sometimes her financial situation was so bad that she had to go hungry to ensure her children had food to eat.
“On some days, we could only eat rice and egg. Otherwise our meals are just rice flavoured with salt or soy sauce. We do not often get to eat vegetables, let alone meat,” said Khaterina, who shared a flat unit with eight other people. There are four adults and five children in total, including two disabled individuals.
“It is a tight squeeze in the flat but I have nowhere else to go. I was kicked out of my childhood home when my parents died, and my ex-husband has not given any monetary support since we divorced some 20 years ago.
“I can only take on night jobs near my house, as I have to care for my 24-year-old disabled daughter in the day,” said Khaterina, who earns about RM700 per month as a security guard.
“There are only two able-bodied adults at home. Any income we make goes towards our rent, food and utility arrears. We have had our water and electricity supply cut off because we were unable to pay our bills.”
Khaterina said she was unable to apply for any welfare aid, as she does not have a permanent address or job, nor the necessary paperwork to qualify for the aid.
PPR Section 8 Kota Damansara resident Aisah Hasbullah sympathised with her neighbours, knowing all too well how tough it was to raise a family on a tight budget.
“My seven children are now all grown up, but I remember how difficult it was to manage a household on limited funds.
“I felt the pinch each time the prices of groceries went up,” said the 70-year-old, now a grandmother of 13.
“Three decades ago, RM400 a month was enough for our household groceries. These days, it is barely enough for two weeks,” she added.
Uma Devi Ramalingam’s life was upended when her lorry driver husband died two years ago during a surgery to amputate his leg.
“He was the sole breadwinner and took care of everything,” said the mother of four.
Uma Devi, 38, now relies on the RM800 Socso payment she receives every month, of which RM500 is set aside for rent and RM100 for utility bills for her flat in Desa Mentari, Petaling Jaya.
With only RM200 left for food and groceries, she sometimes relied on friends and neighbours to help with other expenses.
“Our meals are very basic -- rice with one dish, like canned sardines or eggs. I try to stretch each meal I cook for two to three days.
“We are fortunate that my two youngest sons’ school expenses are covered by a kind teacher. She pays for everything, which includes uniforms, books, stationery and fees,” said Uma Devi, adding that she has been unable to find a job.