KUALA LUMPUR: Khairunnisa (not her real name), 17, is pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.
The teenager from Selangor was forced to drop out of school but harbours dreams of continuing her studies and sitting for her SPM after she has given birth.
It is a different story for 16-year-old Azimah (not her real name), who is from Kelantan. After the birth, she will quit school to work in the family restaurant, with the blessings of her parents.
Khairunnisa and Azimah intend to raise their babies themselves.
The two teenagers are among 12 residents of Rumah Kita, a shelter for unwed mothers-to-be.
FMT dropped in at the two-storey home to find Rumah Kita founder Vimmiyasmin Abd Razak busy checking the medical records of residents.
“Take care of yourself at work,” she reminded one of the residents going out.
Vimmiyasmin explained that the teenager, who came from a poor family, was a victim of incest.
“As long as she can work, she works,” said Vimmiyasmin.
The teenager works as a storekeeper at a nearby hypermarket.
Rumah Kita residents are taught to be independent while they help to run and manage the home.
“They wake up at 6am for prayers. The whole day they clean, cook and do laundry. Quranic readings are played almost all the time and we pray together.”
Vimmiyasmin works in the shelter until evening, when she returns home but continues to keep an eye on the shelter via CCTV cameras.
Residents are only allowed visits by their immediate family members. They are strictly forbidden from meeting the baby’s biological fathers.
“The residents are not here to have fun. They have made a mistake and I tell them that now is the time to right their wrongs and move closer to God.”
She said religious officers often go to the shelter to give religious talks, while volunteers from various NGOs provide counselling, guidance on caring for the babies, and talks on safe sex.
Rumah Kita exists because of the stigma attached to unwed mothers in Asian society.
Vimmiyasmin said these young unwed pregnant women have to bear the burden of being ostracised by society.
“However, from an institutional and bureaucratic perspective, they are not discriminated against. The mum-to-be may register the child for school and request for zakat (tithe).
“However, many unwed pregnant teenagers are disowned because the families want to avoid embarrassment.
“In fact, some families are even ostracised by the community. Don’t think it only happens on TV.”
Rumah Kita and similar shelters exist to look after and protect these girls from those who would judge and condemn them, she said.
“Naturally, a parent will be upset when the child becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Some parents cannot endure their neighbours’ gossip, so the mums-to-be come here for protection until they deliver.”
Vimmiyasmin said the residents were admitted with the consent of their parents. If they did not have that consent at first, she would somehow persuade the parents to give it.
“There are some parents who become upset with me. I will threaten to go to their offices with the release form for them to sign. Surely, they do not wish their colleagues to find out about their daughter’s condition.”
“We need their consent in case complications arise during the pregnancy or delivery, which may require surgery.
“Regardless of how angry the parents may be at the pregnancy, the girls are still their daughters.”
Rumah Kita, which has been open for a year, is run by a team of 12 employees and relies fully on public donations to fund its operational costs of about RM5,000 a month.
Thankfully, said Vimmiyasmin, Rumah Kita has the assistance of numerous volunteers, such as those from medical colleges, as well as the welfare department and religious organisations.
Rumah Kita also hopes to obtain grants from the government and private sector to aid in its upkeep next year.
“At any one time, we can only house 12 residents and there is a long waiting list. There are too many pregnant teenagers, to the extent the government agencies are unable to cope.”
According to National Registration Department records, 159,725 children have been born out of wedlock since 2013.
Those interested in contributing to Rumah Kita can reach Vimmiyasmin at 016-341 1273.