KUALA LUMPUR - There are not enough legal childcare centres in Malaysia and the existing ones are overburdened - some as much as twice its capacity - putting the welfare of their charges at risk.
By law, one childcare provider should attend to only three babies aged below one year so that sufficient attention can be given.
For children aged between one and two, the ratio is 1:5 while it is 1:10 for toddlers aged between three and four.
However, the reality was that legal childcare centres had more than their hands full, with some having a ratio of 1:20, said Association of Registered Childcare Providers Malaysia (ARCPM) president P.H. Wong.
"It is impossible for one childcare provider to look after 20 infants and toddlers. The problem is that very few centres comply with the ratio set out by the Child Care Centre Act 1984," she added.
Wong said the 3,172 centres currently registered with the Social Welfare Department nationwide - catering to almost 3.4 million children aged below four - was a far cry from the targeted 13,200 childcare centres by 2020 envisaged under the Government Transformation Programme.
"This means that Malaysia needs to have an additional 10,000 centres over the next six years. How are we to achieve this?" said Wong, who is also a member of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Council.
Wong said parents faced the problem of paying for childcare fees, with prices in Kuala Lumpur ranging between RM200 and RM2,000 monthly.
"If parents are unable to afford the fees, they then bring their children to illegal centres.
"At the same time, very few people want to go into the childcare industry as they can't afford to pay staff salaries," she said.
She added that this problem came about after the country imposed the minimum wage policy.
Wong argued that it was difficult for the Government to police unregistered centres, which might offer subpar services as anyone with SPM qualification and who had taken the Permata early childhood care course could offer childcare services.
"The ECCE Council is pushing for all childcare providers to have at least a diploma in early childhood care and education," she said, adding that it was important for children to have good early childhood care to ensure healthy growth and development.
Wong said ARCPM and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry would be launching its Hari Taska on Saturday at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris in Tanjung Malim with the aim of creating awareness on the importance of quality childcare.