THE murder of two boys by their own mother who later committed suicide by hanging herself in Kota Samarahan last Tuesday drew sighs of sympathy and gasps of disbelief.
Sadly the events leading up to this tragedy were not uncommon – a tale of broken marriage and irresponsible husband who left his wife and children to fend for themselves.
The initial grief over the tragedy was followed by public angst that there are such abjectly desperate people in our society who the authorities and social NGOs missed.
Significantly there was no finger pointing and condemnation over the tragedy – there seemed to be a general acceptance that it is inevitable that cases like that of the abandoned wife and her children could easily fall through the gaps of our social welfare system.
The Minister of Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Datuk Fatimah Abdullah responded to the murder-suicide case by saying that it was ‘an alarm being triggered’.
She was spot on in her remark because single mothers and abandoned wives left to fend for themselves and their children is a big social problem that has not received enough attention from the government.
This problem cannot be addressed by just giving aid to these unfortunate women or providing them temporary shelters and counselling although it is an integral part of the solution.
The first step towards addressing the situation is for the government through its relevant ministries to work more closely with welfare NGOs as mooted by Fatimah in her reaction to the murder-suicide case.
Let us hope that the Ministry of Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing would not take too long to reach out to organisations such as Sarawak Women for Women Society to form a bigger base to help women in distress.
Not enough is being done to ensure men who left their families or girlfriends with their children live up to their responsibility of contributing to the upkeep of the children.
Often as in the case of the woman in the suicide-murder the woman was left to raise the family on her own while the husband just abandon them.
There must be stronger laws enacted or more robust enforcement of the existing laws to ensure shared responsibility in the upkeep of children of failed marriages or broken relationships.
However, coming to the aid of battered or abandoned wives and single mother is like curing the symptoms of an illness which could at best alleviate the pain without solving the cause of the illness.
The root cause of the high number of single mothers in the state is the fact that Sarawak has the second highest number of teenage pregnancies in the nation.
This led to couples getting married too young and the marriage breaking down later or the girls having to bring up her baby on her own as the boy moved on.
Concerted efforts must be made to cut down teenage pregnancies to stem the rising number of single mothers.
Ironically sex education arguably the most effective approach to achieve that is an option the authorities are still struggling to implement.
One practical reason is that the state does not have enough teachers competent in broaching this subject to young children.
The bigger reason is cultural and in some cases religious taboo on talking about sex with children.
Our society has to keep up with time and cast off this mindset that talking about sex to youth could lead to promiscuity among them.
The Internet has changed the playing field on the ‘birds and bees’ subject as children no longer grow up in blissful ignorance as in the past.
What parents and teachers do not tell them they can easily find out through the social media and pornography sites.
In fact shying away from sex education is doing more harm than good for the youth as without guidance they are likely to indulge in sex without any sense of responsibility.
While efforts must be made to help single mothers it is equally important to address the root cause of this social problem.