INTERACTIVE: Why so many of our kids are drowning and what can be done


PETALING JAYA: From swimming pools to waterfalls, Malaysian parents are taking their kids for a swim to beat the heat.

But amid the fun, there is a sobering fact – an average of 10 children aged below 14 died each month from drowning from 2017 to 2021.

Drowning is among the main causes of death among children below 15, especially boys.

According to the Statistics Department of Malaysia, there were 591 drowning deaths of children aged 0-14 years between 2017 and 2021. Of the total, 74% were boys.

Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia • The statistics on deaths published by DOSM are based on the registration of deaths at the National Registration Department (NRD), where the cause of death has been verified by the medical officer through post mortem.

A Flourish data visualization

Drowning was also the second major cause of death for boys aged 0-14 years from 2018 to 2020, after transport accidents.

Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia

Those aged five to 14 make up more than half of the drowning deaths involving children.

Between January and April this year alone, a total of 97 drowning deaths were reported, with seven cases involving boys aged 8 to 11 years until March.

Another scary fact is that it takes just three minutes for a person to lose his life from drowning.

“If a person is submerged for three minutes or more, the chances to revive them through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) are very slim,” said Nordin Pauzi, the Fire Safety Division acting head of the Fire and Rescue Department in Putrajaya.

This is why parents should be within close reach of their children.

“When parents sit too far away, it takes longer for them to reach or retrieve their children in case of emergencies,” said Nordin.

Children, he said, are also at a high risk of drowning because of their eagerness and excitement over water activities, without understanding the risks.

He said the depth of water and the human height are important factors in determining whether water activities are safe.

“The safe depth of water is about the height of the navel. Then, you can still balance yourself when wading through water, but with children, even such a depth could be dangerous due to their inability to swim or balance properly,” he said.

Recently, the Youth and Sports Ministry said it would hold swimming classes to instil the importance of water safety for children aged between three and 12 from B40 families.

“Based on existing data, about 500 drowning cases involving children are reported each year,” minister Hannah Yeoh said.

There have been reports of drowning involving children at swimming pools and rivers, with the youngest victim being one year and nine months old.

Why should children not be allowed to play unattended around bodies of water, even shallow ones?

“Shallow waters, even if they appear safe, will be risky for small children due to their height.

“When a child loses his balance and gets even slightly submerged, he is most probably unable to survive without help,” he said.

He said parents should also be aware of bodies of waters with uneven base and depths, such as rivers and sea.

“Rivers are where more than half of drowning cases have occurred, followed by the sea, lakes and waterfalls,” he said.

Source: The Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM)

He said teenage boys were at a higher risk as they tend to go for water activities with friends in groups and without parental supervision.

“They may also go fishing and it is difficult to monitor their whereabouts as they are keen to explore and try new things without understanding the risk,” he said.

Nordin said local authorities should put up signage as a warning or indicators on the risk factors at beaches and rivers.

“At beaches, there should be signage for windsock, which indicates large waves, signage for the times for high and low tide, as well as no swimming warnings in dangerous areas,” he said.

He urged the local authorities including the Fire and Rescue Department to conduct rounds at high-risk areas during peak times such as weekends and holidays.

“However, it is most important for people to identify those at risk, such as children, those who do not know how to swim, or others who are mentally or physically challenged.

“These people may be more at risk of drowning. Parents or guardians should practice extra caution,” he said.

Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia • Medically certified causes of death refer to verification made by the Medical Officer and Coroner only while non-medically certified causes of death refer to verification made by informants without medical qualifications such as the police or individuals.

Source: INTERACTIVE: Why so many of our kids are drowning and what can be done – The Star

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