KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 — Lela, a 27-year-old mother, has a 13-month-old infant, and as much as she and her husband would like to send their child to an established daycare centre — they just cannot afford it.
She told Malay Mail they cannot afford to pay more than RM400 monthly for child care even with her job as a junior executive. And with most places near them costing above RM600 per month, their elderly neighbour seemed like a more tempting choice to take care of their infant.
“I pay RM260 a month and my neighbour, who is an old ‘mak cik’, seems to be a very nice woman as she was the one who offered to care for my child when I delivered,” she said in a brief interview, using the Malay word for an older lady.
Lela, which is not her real name, said she could not rely on her parents or in-laws to care for her child either because they do not even live in the same city.
“If we can afford, we would definitely send our baby to an established place but the monthly cost is just too much for us,” she said.
Unregistered child minders have entered the spotlight after the horrifying and heartbreaking death of a baby named Adam Rayqal Mohd Sufi, who was found stuffed in a zipper bag and hidden inside a freezer in his sitter’s house.
Police said initial investigations revealed the 33-year-old suspect had provided a daycare service for about two years, and had only looked after the victim for a week.
His mother Farrah Madihah Othman works as a night-shift nurse and was left with no choice but to send her child to a nanny, even as young as five-month-old — since no such daycare opens at night.
But even if she had worked the day shift, the mother may still be forced to utilise unregistered daycare due to her meagre wage as a nurse, just like several parents who spoke to Malay Mail.
A check by Malay Mail found that registered daycare centres start from around RM600 depending on the location, ratio of sitters to children, types of meals provided, and activities offered to improve a newborn’s motor skills.
The ceiling price is yet to be determined. A straw poll by Malay Mail found that daycare for parents who work around the Kuala Lumpur golden triangle area could reach as much as RM2,000 per month.
Compared to these rates, unregistered ones charge less, since most do not cater to special needs — which may vary from cooking a certain type of meal to giving showers.
Another parent, Raj Varman, told Malay Mail his wife has stopped working to look after their child starting about two years ago.
“A nanny in our condo wanted to charge us close to RM600 and a reputable place that I checked was charging around RM1,000 upwards.
“That is just too expensive for us and we decided that my wife stop work for several years to care for our child,” said the 32-year-old engineer, whose child is now three-years-old.
With his salary, Raj said he could manage to raise his family although he was, most of the time, on a tight budget.
“We had considered many options like sending our child to a relative in Klang, but the distance from our place in Puchong and to commute back and forth every day did not make sense,” he added. Klang and Puchong are around 30km apart, or around half an hour drive.
But not just any parent can quit their job to be stay-at-home mums and dads, an increasingly common reaction among young parents as more and more cases of child abuse are reported and uncovered in the headlines.
Many also do not have extended family members living nearby to lend a hand.
This raises a question on how some middle-income parents were coping with child care if they have no such option.
Earlier this week, Women, Family and Community Development deputy minister Hannah Yeoh said that all government agencies will be equipped with day care centres for children by next year.
She also said offices in the private sector will be eligible for a 10 per cent tax exemption for 10 years, that covers renovation, maintenance and owning a daycare centre.
But that would risk punishing parents who work in the private sector, as firms deliberate from the cost and economic inertia.
This was evident in the statistics provided by Yeoh when making the announcement, where only 205 offices in the government sector and 52 in the private sector were already equipped with childcare centres — a ratio of roughly 4:1.
Childcare and Kindergarten Educators Association of Malaysia president Rozita Kamil lauded the idea, but added that Putrajaya should consider providing free daycare and kindergarten centres for toddlers until the age of three.
“If not free, the government should consider offering some kind of subsidy for parents who experience difficulties in paying for daycare centres,” she said when contacted.
Rozita also suggested parents undergo a training course similar to childminders to understand and subsequently provide the best for their children.
“Childminders are not the only ones who need to be educated to care for children. Parents should also know what they are signing up for in providing the best of the best for their children,” she said.