The increase in participation of women in the labour market is resulting in children have less time at home. Grandparents and other trusted parties are often relegated with the care of children while parents are at work. Children are increasingly spending time in extra-curricular activities either at their own school or in other set-ups including Sports clubs and other ‘leisure’ and ‘talent’ centers where they undertake activities such as arts, dance and drama. On another front, children are increasingly growing up in diverse family structures including reconstituted families and lone parents set-ups. In 2015 80.1% of children lived with both parents, 19.5% lived with single parents, and 0.4% did not live with their parents . Lone parent and reconstituted families have increased in the last number of years mainly as a result of the rise in the incidence of births outside marriage, teenage motherhood, and marital breakdown.
In the last report ‘The European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions’ showed that 19.2% of the Maltese population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) in 2017. Although a decrease of 0.9% on the previous years’s figures, this percentage is still very significant, amounting to 82,652 people. The report found that the household that remains most at risk of poverty and social exclusion was that made up of a single parent and one or more dependent children, with a rate of 50.2%.
As other years, the Southern harbour area was the area with the highest AROPE (26.9%) followed by the Northern area (20.1%). The lowest AROPE was in western area and stood at 15%. Despite a slight improvement in the last 6 years, 25% of children (from birth to 17 years) remain at the risk of poverty (as at November 2017). This means these children were living in households with at least one of three conditions: at risk of poverty after social transfers; severely materially deprived or with very low work intensity.
As the number of foreigners working and settling in Malta is increasing, there is the need to raise awareness on the importance of a culture that value pluralism – a positive image of all children irrespective of their religion, culture, race or colour. Diversity may result in exclusion, as children with different religious backgrounds and/or hailing from different cultures start new lives in other countries.
Health problems related to the way of living have increased among children in Malta. The latest HBSC study conducted in 2014 (WHO, 2016) states that Malta has the highest rate of overweight and obesity among 11 year olds (32% of girls and 36% of boys), 13 year olds (33% of girls and 36% of boys) and 15 year olds (26% of girls, 34% of boys). The average rates for the 42 counties and regions participating in the study stood at 22%, 20% and 17% for the respective categories. It is imperative that there is continued awareness on the importance of active versus sedentary lifestyle (especially as part of the after-school activities). As mentioned in Malta’s National Children’s Policy (Nov, 17) it is important to “strengthen initiatives that reduce child poverty and increase awareness on how to eat well on a low budget”.
Measures currently undertaken in schools in Malta including the provision of health snacks through a coordinated initiative with Government, the availability of breakfast clubs and in some schools the availability of healthy snacks at the canteen. These efforts need to be strengthened by awareness measures targeting children, parents and other guardians.
Although from the 2014 HBSC survey, the use of illicit drugs among 15 and 16 year olds (at least once in their lifetime) was below average of the participating countries Malta has the highest rate of weekly alcohol consumption in 15 year olds among the countries in the survey. In order to avoid addictions, consistent effort on educating and raising awareness on the dangers of such risky behaviours need to be an integral part of any lifeskills programme.
Although the introduction of the Home Based Therapeutic Services(HBTS), by the FSWShas substantially reduced the number of Care Orders, there remains the ongoing need to provide support to children and youth in ‘out-of-home’ care. Perennial issues faced by children during their ‘out-of-home’ residence as well as their integration in society after exiting such ‘shelters’ are issues which still persist despite various efforts by multiple parties over the years.
Statistics confirm that the rate of sexual abuse on children has increased over the last two years. There were 56 offenders on the sexual offenders register as at end 2017. This means that over a period of 2 years the number of sex offenders nearly doubled as in 2015 the list totaled 27. This alarming statistic coupled with the recent stories of members of the clergy possibly being involved in cases of sexual misconduct, confirms a perennial problem in society, confirming the vulnerability of children and the urgent need to work towards raising awareness and educating children and their guardians on the possible dangerous of sexual advancements, including the dangers of grooming in online activities.