Adapted by the PCDForum from Bishan Singh’s Column in The
Sun, Tuesday, August 17, 1993.
by Bishan Singh
In Malaysia we speak of budaya
lepak,which refers to the phenomenon of teenagers hanging
out at shopping complexes,
malls, supermarkets and transportation terminals. The loitering
culture has become a national
concern, in particular of the
Ministry of Youth and Sports
which has said it wants to launch
a campaign to arrest its growth.
I perceive the loitering culture as one of the symptoms of a
changing and failing society.
The main cause is our current
dominant development practice.
My inquiry has revealed five
reasons for the problem:
- Lack of parental supervision.
Both parents are out making a
living. Children, especially teenagers, are often left alone or expected to care for themselves.
- The school system is not keeping the student involved. Teachers are often themselves engaged
in earning additional income and
lack the time and motivation to
interact with and guide students
after school hours.
- Community life is breaking
down along with family life.
There are no more harvesting
seasons with the traditional sharing of labor, no community projects to which people contribute
their labor. Even neighbors have
- The authorities are failing to
provide adequate space for playground, parks, forest reserves,
clean rivers and ponds for fishing and other forms of outdoor
- The vacuum created by the
above is exploited creatively by
business as a profit opportunity.
They have designed facilities
such as video games, karaoke,
slot machines, and pachinko in
shopping malls and supermarkets to lure teenagers who have
no where else to go. This promotes addiction to cigarettes,
alcohol, sex, drugs, and a society lacking in morals and social responsibility.
I have further identified three
underlying causes of the these
- The cost of living is escalating, requiring that both parents
work to maintain the family.
Many have even taken up second jobs to meet car installments, housing mortgages, holiday loans, credit card debts and
other costs of modern living.
- The mark of success has been
narrowed to one thing: money.
Money is now the ultimate
power over people and resources, the sole means of upward mobility.
- A materialistic consumer culture of affluence and waste traps
everyone in a system where the
rich grow richer and strengthen
These causes all follow from
a growth-led development approach. We want more not because we need more. We simply
have to have more. But as Mahatma Gandhi taught: “There is
enough for every man’s need;
but not enough for every man’s
The growth-led economic
model is the root cause not only
of the problem of the loitering
culture, but many other social
problems like family breakdown,
drug addiction, alcoholism,
crimes, corruption, breach of
trust, growing poverty, social
violence, environmental degradation, and illegal immigration.
The loitering culture is simply one of the many symptoms
of a growth-led economic model
that has reached its outer limits
in a finite world. The bubble has
started to burst.
Quantitative growth is no
longer possible in a finite world
without adverse social and environmental consequences. We
must aspire to qualitative
Coming back to the specific
problem of the loitering culture,
we must develop strategies in
- We must strengthen the institutions of family and community. Traditions of community
self-help might be reactivated to
provide opportunities for teenagers to get together in family and community
- The Ministry of Youth and
Sports must extend its concern
to include recreation. Teenagers
must be involved in planning
and developing programs and
facilities for their own recreation
- Each local government must
undertake community programs
and programs that involve youth
in making voluntary contributions to the community toward
building a caring and sharing
society. For such efforts they
might be awarded points toward
scholarships, entry into the university, or priority in job applications.
- We must then work to transform the consumer culture to a
conserver and a responsible consumer culture, in particular
among teenagers. The consumer
movement is doing some good
work in this area. Its initiatives
must be supported by the
community and the government.
- Redefine our national objectives to focus on qualitative
growth. This means concentrating on sustainable livelihoods
that promote job satisfaction and
creativity. It means planning and
developing a better living environment with adequate housing,
efficient public transport, health
care, and public amenities like
parks and recreational facilities.
People must be relieved of the
pressure and greed to make
money. Instead we must learn
once again to appreciate the
family and community life that
are essential ingredients for a
better quality of life.
Bishan Singh is Executive Director of
MINSOC, 2441 Jalan Merpati, 1st Floor, 25300 Kuantan, Pahang Darul Makmur, Malaysia, Fax (60-9) 514-982, a columnist for The Sun in
Malaysia, and a contributing
editor of the People-Centered
Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum.