Help single Malay mums - get fathers involved too
THE high number of unwed Malay mothers is unlikely to dip soon, say observers who blame an entrenched culture of reckless promiscuity among some Malay youth.
Unfortunately too, attention has focused on unwed mums but not the fathers who tend to get away scot-free, say social workers and community leaders.
The latest statistics show that 248, or half of the 495 newborns registered without a father's name last year, had Malay mums. In 2005, it was 240.
Counsellors and social workers interviewed say these births out of wedlock are more common among the poor, those with low education and those from broken homes - a profile more Malays fall into compared with the other races.
Figures from the Registry of Births and Deaths show that of the 458 births to Malay teens aged 15 to 19 last year, 239 mums had no or only primary education, 213 went to secondary school. Five had upper secondary education. The educational status of one teen is not known.
What is more disturbing is the tendency for repeat teen births. Of these 458 births, 82 were second children, 18 were third and one was a fourth child.
To avoid such births and help mums involved, social workers say a tougher, more targeted approach to counsel the men involved is needed.
'The burden falls on the girl who gets pregnant, and not much can be done to get the guy to be responsible,' said Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) counsellor Zaleha Ahmad.
The Straits Times spoke to four such unwed mothers, all of whom wish their ex-partners - who left them when they were pregnant - could be made to pay for their children's upkeep.
Only one succeeded in getting her son's father to do a paternity test. He was ordered to pay maintenance for his son, now seven, but only contributes 'here and there'.
It does not help that the subculture which many of these mothers find themselves in stresses sex as necessary in a relationship.
This is despite Islam prohibiting premarital sex.
Said an ITE student who wanted to be known only as Munir, 20: 'We talk about it, but we can't control our desires, and the lady is willing.'
Another student who gave his name as Hakim, 18, said: 'It's normal for us to expect sex, but I use protection because you don't know what you pick up from these girls.'
Many abandon their partners who get pregnant.
But there is a group that does end up marrying, often after being pressured by their families.
Last year, 422 Muslim brides were under 21. Many tied the knot as a result of unplanned pregnancy, according to counsellors who get referred these cases by the Registry of Muslim Marriages.
If the man runs away, the mother has no choice but to register her baby without the father's name.
Siti (not her real name), 26, who had to do this when she had her baby last year, wishes there could be laws or some form of community counselling scheme requiring fathers to go for paternity tests and pay child maintenance.
What would be good, said obstetrician and gynaecologist Jazlan Joosoph, who sees many such unwed Malay mums, is 'some kind of law or enforcement to get these irresponsible men to be responsible for the welfare needs of these pregnant girls and their newborns'.
One stumbling block does not seem to remedy this situation: A sizeable minority of Malay youth are sexually active, but the community is generally opposed to teaching contraceptive use as this may amount to condoning sex.
Which is why some say targeted education for this group is needed. Such education must include decision-making skills so teens do not succumb to peer pressure to have sex, said Ain Society chief executive Mohamad Yusof Ismail.
But the reckless behaviour of some of these youth is added cause for concern.
'There are some who are not remorseful, but nonchalant. They often do not want to be helped,' said Dr Jazlan.
Added Madam Zaleha: 'Before, such teens were ignorant of contraceptives. Now, they say they don't use them because they don't like to.'
LEFT IN THE LURCH
'The burden falls on the girl who gets pregnant, and not much can be done to get the guy to be responsible.'
THE FLESH IS WEAK
'We talk about it, but we can't control our desires, and the lady is willing.'
'There are some who are not remorseful, but nonchalant. They often do not want to be helped.'
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