Adapted by the PCDForum from Bishan Singh’s Column in The
, Tuesday, August 17, 1993.

by Bishan Singh

In Malaysia we speak of budaya
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
    become strangers.

  •  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
    their control.

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
five areas:

  • 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
    and education.
  • 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.

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