Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Why zero in on Single Parents (Single Mums)?

Unlike orphans, the disabled or the terminally ill, Single Mums as an entity generally do not fall on the radar of most people who donate to charity. This is primarily because Single Mums do not live in a special home or a designated location, they live on their own and do their best to bring up their children in whatever way they can.

It is this fragmented scenario that makes the gathering of information and data so tough even for the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry under Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. However, according to The Star’s - Sunday, May 21, 2006 report: An increasing number of women are becoming single mothers and this puts them under a lot of financial and emotional strain, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Datuk Tan Chai Ho said.

Describing the situation as alarming, he said children were also affected. Tan cited National Population and Family Development Board statistics that showed there were 19,800 divorces and 150,000 marriages in 2004. Among the reasons cited for broken marriages were irreconcilable differences, irresponsibility and interference by in-laws.Other reasons included drug-addiction, cheating, refusal of permission to take a second wife, and others that involved money, abuse, crime, gambling and alcohol addiction.

Star Reporter/DUMC member Loh Foon Fong wrote that statistics by the Women, Family and Community Development revealed that there were 126,810 single mothers in the country of whom 58.9 per cent were Malays, 23.4 per cent Chinese, 9.2 per cent Indians, 7.8 per cent non-Malay Bumiputeras and 0.7 per cent other races.
Sadly, most are from the lower income group and some live in poverty. It is a great struggle for lower income single mothers make ends meet as well as provide attention to their children when they have to be away at work most of the day.
The emotional needs of children belonging to single mothers tend to be neglected. It is thus not surprising that they are said to have an inferiority complex, withdrawn, passive and sometimes do not communicate well.
More data culled from the Internet:
E-Homemaker website: Statistics indicate an increased number of women are breadwinners while there is a higher rate of poverty in female-headed households in Malaysia. In 1999, it is estimated that about 895,000 women are breadwinners for their families.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, 18% of households in Malaysia are female-headed households. Due largely to a longer life span, women often assume the position of household heads only upon the death of their husbands. There are also women who have to cope as single parents, either due to divorce or separation, `temporary' absence of the spouse due to employment elsewhere, desertion or polygamy.
The statistics from the National Statistics Index shows that for the year 2000, the number of single mothers in Malaysia is estimated at 11,597.

A study conducted by Tan and Tey (1993) found female-headed households more prevalent amongst older and those who were widowed, divorced, separated or single.
Many of these females are not working or are engaged in marginal occupations and had poor education. Their study showed that households headed by females accounted for 17.7% in 1980 compared to 18.5% in 1991. In terms of age, there is a rise in younger age groups of 20-39 and in older age groups of 60 years and above in 1991 compared to 1980. Another significant observation was that females reported as household heads were also more non-currently married; an increase from 23% in 1980 to 30% in 1991.

These households were mainly Chinese and it was consistent with the rising age of first marriage and increasing proportion remaining single at advanced age. The study showed that 20% of these households were headed by Chinese women compared to 18% Indian and Malay women.
Households headed by females have been found to be among the poorest of the poor and they require special and urgent government attention and assistance (Buviriic 1978).
Such households are more vulnerable to poverty because unpartnered women usually retain the primary responsibility for childcare and home maintenance tasks and in the absence of a male breadwinner, they face the additional challenge of making market-oriented activities compatible with domestic responsibility, have less access to financial resources and land ownership compared with men (Merrick & Schmok, 1983).

In general, female-headed households are more prevalent among older women and among those who are widowed, divorced, separated or single. Yet policies and programs have tended not to consider such household heads as different and that they may require special focus and attention because many of them are likely to live in poverty.
To reiterate, based on the 1991 census, it is clear that female household heads do not work or work in marginalized jobs and have poor levels of education. As most of them are older, divorced, separated or widowed, they need a support system to turn to in times of need.

A common problem faced by single mothers is the problem of financial support. In terms of the ideas outlined by Randy Albelda and Chris Tilly (1996) single mothers in Malaysia face a “triple whammy” (p. 369).
This “triple whammy” refers to the low-paid jobs that single mothers have to bear, the double-shift work they have to do both in the private (unpaid) and public
spheres, and management of all these alone without help from another adult.

In addition, according to Wan Halim (1990), a clinical sociologist in Malaysia , this financial problem is even more severe for single mothers who were unemployed prior to being divorced.
Frequent complaints by the single mothers in Malaysia. is that the long court process, which can take up to more than ten years in many cases, is a form of social injustice for them. This is because the need to formally obtain a divorce, custody of their children, and obtain child support, if delayed, is a serious form of “oppression” (Hanifah, 2002).

Delaying tactics committed by the male spouses, such as by non-attendance in court
for a hearing, are very rarely punished by the court. Similarly, husbands who do not turn up for the counseling sessions (there are three mandatory counseling sessions for the couple before filing for divorce) go un-reprimanded. Postponement of court hearings because of the failure of husbands to appear in court is a common occurrence.

Any delay is a source of financial loss and psychological anguish for the women who expect justice from the court. These single mothers will take off from work in order to
appear in court. They also have to bear transportation costs (especially if they live in a rural area with poor transportation services), having to find someone to look after their children, only to have their cases postponed simply because their spouses or ex- spouses decide to delay the process by not appearing in court.

Shelter Home’s Single Mother’s Network comprise 180 individuals and is growing. The network is only about 2 years old and was established because it was felt that one cannot care for the children and ignore the needs of the mothers.
Then too, if the needs of Single Mothers could be met, there would be less abused, abandoned and at risk children on the streets of Malaysia.

Single mothers do need psychological, emotional and financial help and the latter area is where Jumble Station comes in. Setting up Jumble Station is a step forward to achieving this. However, we can only do it one single mum at a time and we need all the help to make this community outreach initiative an impactful programme. More on who some of these Single Mums are...coming soon... from Antz

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