Childcare costs squeezing Malaysia’s middle-class pockets
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 ― The difficulties and rising cost of hiring maids from neighbouring countries are forcing urban middle-class parents to send their children to private childcare.
Many parents The Malaysian Insider spoke to noted, however, that private childcare was also expensive, making it difficult to save money amid other escalating living costs like food and housing.
Several government departments and agencies have crèches for their staff but very few companies provide such facilities for working mothers.
Nurse Carys Chew, 28, said that sending her baby to a babysitter costs RM850 a month ― nearly 14 per cent out of her monthly household income of RM6,000.
After spending on milk and diapers, servicing the housing loans for a house in Pahang state capital Kuantan and an apartment in Kinrara, Selangor, where she resides, and other household expenses, Chew and her husband can only afford to save their bonuses.
“We cannot save at all. My husband’s side is kosong (empty) every month,” Chew told The Malaysian Insider recently.
Asked whether it was difficult to hire an Indonesian maid, Chew pointed out that maid agency fees alone would amount to several thousand ringgit.
The Malaysian Maid Employers Association (MAMA) reportedly said last month that only 108 maids have been sent to Malaysia, compared to the
22,000 requested by Malaysian employers since Indonesia ended the embargo on maids in December 2011.
Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said last December that some maid agencies charged fees of up to RM12,000 per maid.
Several childcare centres and parents have told The Malaysian Insider that childcare costs ranged from RM300 to RM1,300 a month.
Irene Leow, who runs the Seri Mawar Child Care and Development Centre in Jalan Ampang, said that the number of children staying for full-day care doubled to 20 in 2009 from less than 10 in 2003. The figure has remained constant in the past three years.
Leow charges RM770 monthly for full-day care, RM620 for care until 2 pm, and RM450 for care until 11.45 am.
“Childcare does take a chunk out of people’s salaries. That’s why people should think of all these costs before having children,” Leow told The Malaysian Insider recently, adding that one-third of her clients were expats.
Peter & Jane kindergarten founder Patricia Teh said that she now charges RM1,300 a month for education and childcare for children aged between two-and-a-half years to six years, after increasing her fees by RM100 last month.
“To me, RM400 is way too low for childcare,” Teh told The Malaysian Insider, adding that Peter & Jane’s waiting list amounted to more than 100 people each year.
Teh, who is also a committee member of the Early Childhood Care & Education Council (ECCE) that was conceived in the government’s National Key Economic Area (NKEA) lab, said there are 550 children in five Peter & Jane centres located in Mutiara Damansara, SEA Park, Damansara Jaya, Saujana Villa and Jalan Ampang for Citibank employees.
Of those, only 130 children opt for the full nursery and childcare programme. Without childcare, parents paid RM700 a month.
“Even to fork out RM700 a month is a lot. RM1,300 (for education and childcare) is just for fees. What about field trips and concerts? I have friends who didn’t realise it’s so expensive until they came to Peter & Jane,” said Teh, 53.
Teh stressed, however, that expensive childcare fees are necessary to recruit quality staff. “70 per cent of your income goes to HR (human resource) and children ― food, toys, keeping it clean,” she said, adding that she pays each of her 70 academic staff at least RM1,200 a month.
The majority of Peter & Jane clients are Chinese, while Malays make up some 20 per cent, and the rest are Korean, Japanese and other clients, said Teh.
The Peter & Jane centre in Mutiara Damansara boasts spacious areas ― where children learn mathematics through wooden blocks or lie down and imagine the night sky ― that are not designed as traditional classrooms. There are no doors or walls. Instead, classes are divided by colourful bulletin boards.
This enables everyone to be seen, said Teh. The large centre has a high ceiling and pastel walls with blue and red stair banisters.
Church pastor Karen Chan, who has a household income of about RM14,000, spends about RM1,130 a month to send her eight-year-old daughter to a daycare centre in Taman Megah and her four-year-old son to a babysitter in SS2.
“If I have a third child, I cannot work,” Chan told The Malaysian Insider, pointing out that the childcare costs for three children would near her salary.
Chan, 39, added that it was very difficult to obtain Indonesian maids. “I’ve had friends pay RM10,000, RM14,000, but they still haven’t received (the maids) yet,” she said.
Association of Registered Child Care Providers Malaysia (PPBM) vice-president PH Wong said that the minimum wage policy, which was implemented on January 1, has pushed the fees of childcare centres in Selangor from RM250 to RM300 a month.
“In PJ (Petaling Jaya), childcare fees are RM600 to RM800. KL (Kuala Lumpur), it’s RM1,200,” Wong told The Malaysian Insider recently.
She noted that it was usually the wealthy who hired full-time maids, while middle-income earners sought private childcare.
Wong added that most Chinese living in urban areas sent their children to private childcare, while low-income Malay and Indian parents sent theirs to government and low-cost private childcare centres respectively.
The number of registered childcare centres has jumped from 245 in 2008 to 1,962 in 2012, according to statistics provided by the Social Welfare Department (JKM). There are also at least 1,600 unlicensed childcare centres.
Taska Seri Cahaya owner Shamsinah Che Shariff said that her monthly childcare fees are RM700 for babies and RM550 for children aged three to four years.
The childcare centre currently has four babies and 20 children aged two to four years, while Shamsinah’s kindergarten ― which operates at the same venue in Subang Jaya ― has over 100 children.
“I’m surviving because I’m not depending on childcare money,” Shamsinah told The Malaysian Insider, adding that she relied on her kindergarten business, which charges RM400 a month.
Shamsinah, who is also the PPBM president, pointed out that the childcare provider to children ratios required by law ― 1:3 for babies and 1:5 for children aged two to three years ― swell the overhead costs of childcare centres.
“For a quality centre, you can’t survive with RM300 a month... ideally, the fees for quality childcare is RM1,500,” she said.
“Our home-based operator in Kedah in a paddy field can charge RM300 a kid. In Pahang, they charge RM400. I think our parents have been spoilt with low fees,” added the 54-year-old, who opened her kindergarten in 1998 and childcare centre in 2006.
Church administrator Kasturi Sashi spends RM300 a month to send her six-year-old daughter to a kindergarten, which also provides daycare, in Puchong Jaya, five minutes away from her home. She also gives RM300 a month to her mother, who lives in Bidor, Perak, to take care of her two-year-old son, whom she visits on weekends.
Kasturi, who has a household income of about RM5,500, said she and her husband find it quite difficult to save money.
“My husband keeps telling me to stop work. But nowadays, everything is expensive. I don’t want to give my husband so much burden,” said the 34-year-old administrator, who noted that sending her daughter to daycare forces her to leave work at 5pm sharp so that she can pick her daughter up by 5.30pm.