Mat lajak, youngsters who race and do stunts on modified bicycles known as basikal lajak or mosquito bikes, used to be prevalent in Johor. Now, they’re a danger to themselves and other road users in many parts of the country. Parents, say stakeholders, must be more responsible for their children’s behaviour.
A SPECIAL taskforce should be set up to look at the root cause of mat lajak and ways to tackle it.
National Road Safety Council member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said this should be done immediately because the social ill has claimed lives.
Lee, who’s also the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation senior vice-chairman, said the taskforce should be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is also the Women, Family and Community Development Minister.
And it should comprise all relevant authorities including the Education Ministry.
The taskforce, he said, could look at existing laws and propose relevant amendments or new regulations for a holistic solution.
“The mat lajak are everywhere and if we don’t address the issue seriously, things will only get worse.
“I was in Cheras when my driver nearly rammed into mat lajak who came speeding out of nowhere. These kids are too young to know the traffic rules so parents must take full responsibility.”
Although enforcement agencies have monitored the mat lajak closely and many awareness campaigns have been carried out, the problem is still prevalent due to the support given by some parents and their lackadaisical attitude, Lee added.
Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist and psychologist Assoc Prof Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat said causing mischief and public nuisance is a crime in the Penal Code but a police report needs to be made before an investigation is conducted.
Existing laws like the Child Act 2001, Road Traffic Rules 1959 and Road Transport Act 1987 must be enforced and not just used as a warning, she said.
Parents can’t claim ignorance of the law.
“Children are the responsibility of their parents or guardians.
“So by extension, they’re partially responsible for the delinquent actions of their kids, ” she said, adding that developed countries adopt the approach of instilling accountability and responsibility within the family unit and neighbourhood.
Aggressive campaigns in schools and neighbourhoods, rewarding whistleblowers, creating safe neighbourhoods, carrying out swift legal action instead of delaying justice and taking away reasons to be involved in the delinquent acts, are ways to address the menace once and for all, said Dr Geshina.
Young and reckless
Malaysian Mental Health Association president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said the desire for recognition and attention, and thrill-seeking behaviour, are part of growing up.
But if such action endangers themselves or society, and if the children intentionally ignore safety requirements and openly violate social norms, it may indicate something more sinister, he said.
The consultant psychiatrist said mat lajak may come from dysfunctional families where there is marital conflict or socio-economic challenges that result in poor supervision of children or inconsistent messages being sent by both parents with regards to the rules and consequences of certain behaviours.
“The mat lajak is likely to show rebellion against his parents in such circumstances.
“The child is also likely to have school performance issues resulting in low self-esteem and truancy.”
National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan said broken families, irresponsible adults and society’s couldn’t-care-less attitude are the root of the problem.
The mat lajak have broken the law many times and are especially active during the holidays. They take to the streets, weaving in and out of traffic and even go against traffic, but no one bothers as it involves kids, he said.
“This problem will continue to fester as the police already have their hands full with the mat rempit and their illegal motorcycle races.
“Since these kids are more of a nuisance than a traffic offender, they’re not on the radar.”
The mat rempit menace could have started from the mat lajak so if the problem is not addressed, we will be seeing more mat rempit. And society will have to bear the hefty medical costs especially if the kids are paralysed for life, he said.
Lee said these children also idolise the mat rempit and are trying to emulate their seniors. Since they can’t afford to buy a motorcycle, these mat lajak convert their bicycles into racing machines.
“Enforcement agencies and other stakeholders need new approaches to tackle the stunt cyclist issue which has been problem in our community for far too long.
“The 2017 incident where the eight teenagers lost their lives in Johor Baru should serve as a bitter lesson to all, especially parents who’re too busy with their careers and social activities, ” Lee said, adding that as law-abiding citizens, Malaysians should respect the Magistrate Court’s recent decision to release the driver who ploughed her car into the group.
“Don’t turn it into a racial issue. While we sympathise with the families of the victims, we must remember that the Magistrate had made the decision based on a number of factors, including the dark and winding road, the fact that the driver could not have predicted the presence of a group of cyclists at 3am; and the danger posed by the cyclists.”
What’s important now is to work together to tackle this issue and ensure that similar incidents would never recur, said Lee.
Following the tragedy, the Home Ministry mulled over having an Anti-social Behaviour Act in Malaysia that empowers the police to act against youths causing distress or nuisance to the public.
Lee urged the Government to expedite the introduction of the new law as it could curb issues like mat lajak.
This is what’s being done in many developed countries.
“I hope there will be a provision to enable the police to take action against parents who allow their children to get involved in illegal bicycle and motorcycle races.
“This is important as some parents encourage and support their children to modify the bicycles for joy rides.
“Since such activities involve minors, the police don’t have the authority to arrest them under the present laws, ” Lee said.
Parents must be responsible
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin thinks parents should be responsible for their child’s actions because the majority – if not all mat lajak – are school-going kids.
“In fact, parents are part of the problem. Surely they’re aware that their children are involved in illegal and extreme modifications of the bicycles or that the kids are going out biking in the wee hours of the morning.
“Why didn’t they stop it? If parents carried out their duties, the mat lajak problem will be contained.”
Even if parents work nights and can’t monitor their kids, they would still know about the illegal modifications because the money would have come from them.
Mak said parents must be responsible for indirectly supporting their kids’ actions.
Dr Geshina said parents should educate their children about the dangers of thrill-seeking behaviour and not leave that responsibility to others.
To a large extent, it’s because parents have given that power to others that incidents of delinquency and recklessness occurs, she said.
Poor parental control, peer group affiliation and indulgent parents are among the reasons why mat lajak is still an issue today.
“Many parents just talk to their children and hope for the best without taking any other remedial action. Some even claim to not know what the children are doing.”
Children being able to modify their bikes to dangerous standards and to stay out until the early hours of the morning does raise doubts on the supervisory ability of the parents, said Dr Andrew.
It’s likely that the parents are battling some other issues of their own, he said, but the rise of the mat lajak phenomena cannot always be blamed on poor parenting alone.
“Children with abnormal psychological characteristics like poor self-control, acceptance of deviant social norms or extreme sibling rivalry, can neutralise the influence of positive parenting.”
Parents, however, are central to the solution to the problem, he said.
Tan agrees that parental supervision is key. If parents are irresponsible, they should be made accountable.
“Perhaps get them to do community work if they allow their kids to loiter late into the night.
“The Government must also have a comprehensive plan to help mat lajak who come from broken homes. Such a measure would also help prevent juvenile crimes, ” he said, adding that current laws are sufficient although enforcement is a problem because the mat lajak issue is seen as trivial.
Just like in any other delinquent behaviour, said Dr Andrew, early intervention is essential as it can prevent the development of dysfunctional behaviour when children become adults.
An intervention should put controls in place while developing the child’s personal coping tools so that he or she can enjoy a fulfilling adulthood later on.
“Don’t blame each another. Both parents must be united in wanting to help the child. Inconsistencies in parental approach between parents will surely cause the intervention to fail.
“I don’t think many parents are aware that they can be charged for neglect. More initiatives are needed to increase awareness among parents on the likelihood of this, ” he said, adding that a collaborative approach between parents, social services, law enforcement and schools is needed to address the mat lajak menace.
“Parents who have obviously neglected their children must be taken to task for being negligent but rather than squarely blaming them, we should all work together.
“Schools, community leaders and neighbourhood associations must also play their part. Safe, recreational spaces that allow children to enjoy activities in a controlled, supervised manner, are sorely lacking in our neighbourhoods.”
There must be a support system in the neighbourhood to develop community cohesion, he said.
Local communities can organise programmes and activities to create belonging while encouraging creativity and positive interaction to equip our youths with social competence.
“Speed and thrill-seeking behaviour is part of growing up particularly among boys. This desire can be accommodated in environments where safety precautions are in place.
“Recognising creativity can turn a social menace into a positive social interaction and improve the relationship between children and adults, ” Dr Andrew said, adding that such preventive measures and social interventions can save the lives.
Lee called for more awareness programmes to discourage youngsters from being involved in illegal races. Proper race tracks must be built to allow those who are interested in such sports to participate with the support and guidance from experienced people.
Echoing the suggestion, Mak said talks should be held in schools to educate students on the dangers of being a mat lajak.
Since most stunts and races are done at specific times and locations – for example past midnight at slopes or ramps – more enforcement should be conducted involving not just the police but other agencies like the local councils and non-governmental organisations.
Such bicycles should be confiscated on sight, he added.
“I’ve seen such bikes in schools. We know it’s not roadworthy and it’s being used by mat lajak. The bikes are not confiscated and the students are not punished. Why? It’s a serious matter.”
But, said Tan, mat lajak only ride after school and late into the night so teachers are in no position to report these students.