KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — About one in five people surveyed in a Unicef study on children with disabilities attributed disability to mystical causes, with black magic specifically highlighted in rural Sabah and Kelantan.
The study by the United Nations agency titled “Childhood disability in Malaysia: A study of knowledge, attitudes and practices” found that 20.8 per cent of survey respondents believed that disability was caused by either God’s will, spirits, curses, parents’ fault, divine punishment, bad feng shui, and fate or karma.
Another two per cent attributed the cause of disability to the environment, including pollution and exposure to chemicals or toxins during pregnancy.
“Socio-cultural beliefs associated with disability were more varied across states and participant groups and included references to black magic, curses and spirits; close kin marriage; punishment and taboo,” said the study released recently.
“The parent of a child with cerebral palsy explained, ‘There is one neighbour who said my child became disabled because he was exposed to black magic. He was cursed or even jinxed by someone, that is why my son still cannot walk until today.’
“Similarly, adolescents in rural Kelantan discussed the cause of a man’s mental illness in their community. They used the Kelantanese phrase ‘santau’ to mean black magic,” added the study.
The research found that Hindu and Buddhist respondents more frequently quoted fate and karma as causes of disability, while Christian and Muslim participants perceived disability as a gift or test from God.
“The Malay belief in ‘kenan’ (process of cause and consequence) was also significant for some parents who considered the disability of a newborn baby to be a consequence of violating one of the religious taboos outlined by Malay Islamic elders,” said the study.
Qualitative data highlighted the belief that children’s disability was caused by their parents’ behaviour, such as smoking, drug taking, alcohol consumption and sex outside marriage.
“In rural Sarawak, the behaviour of the father was believed to have great significance on the outcome of the unborn foetus. One local belief, for example, suggested that a child may be born with a cleft lip if their father had broken a taboo by cutting a basket with a knife.
“A common belief, expressed by participants in all states, held that if a pregnant woman crossed the path of a child with disabilities and made eye contact, she would be cursed and ‘her own child would become like that as well’,” said the study.
The Unicef study ran from January 2016 to September 2016, comprising a quantitative knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) survey among the general public and those with and without experience of children with disabilities, as well as qualitative methods like in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with key informants and stakeholders, and workshops for children and adolescents.
Data collection was conducted in Selangor, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak. Eighty KAP surveys were administered in each of the four states with a total of 320 respondents.