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Malaysia People

Malays form only a slight majority (if one excludes the native peoples of Borneo) in their own country. “Malayness” - being a bumiputera (son of the soil, a native, an indigene, not Chinese) - is the fundamental fact of Malaysian identity. The constitution specifies that a Malay speaks Malay, is a Muslim and practices the Malay culture. The features of being Malay are cultural. Chinese are excluded from this definition.

According to the 2000 census, 50.2 percent of the population is Malay, 24.5 percent Chinese, 11 percent indigenous, 7.2 percent Indian, and 1.2 percent members of other ethnic groups. Non-Malaysian citizens make up the remaining 5.9 percent. These groups often can be divided by language, tribe, and other categories. Since independence, a common national identity has solidified, but ethnic divisions remain apparent in many aspects of daily life. Malays and indigenous groups often refer to themselves as bumiputra (“sons of the soil”), and ethnicity is associated with differences in politics, residence, socioeconomic position, and daily customs. The government has affirmative-action policies designed to promote social harmony, but critics claim such policies unfairly favor ethnic Malays over other groups.

Although the census classification of ethnicity appears to suggest clear-cut divisions among ethnic communities, a more detailed examination reveals considerable ambiguity. One factor to be considered is the heterogeneity within each ethnic community. Although outsiders tend to perceive each ethnic group as a unified bloc, the reality is one of considerable internal differentiation by place of origin, language, and cultural characteristics.

And, though the census classification includes few Orang Asli (aboriginal peoples in the interior of Peninsular Malaysia) under the Malay category, few Malays or Orang Asli see themselves as part of a larger ethnic community. The cultural characterists of an ethnic community are even more difficult to enumerate. Each ethnic grouping is crosscut by many other dimensions, including rural-urban residence, religion, language of formal education, number of generations of Malaysian residence, and socioeconomic position. Cultural characteristics identified by an ethnologist in one area at one time can only be loosely generalized to other social aggregates. Together with the Orang Asli and the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, the Malay population is identified as Bumiputra — literally, sons of the soil. The connotation is that, as the indigenous peoples of the modern states, they possess an entitlement to represent the social and cultural core of the national identity.

Bahasa Melayu is the official language. Other commonly spoken languages include English, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai, and various dialects of Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, and Hainan). In Eastern Malaysia, several indigenous languages are spoken, but Iban and Kadazan are the most prominent. The Malaysian census does not maintain data for the population of linguistic groups, but language and ethnicity are strongly associated.

From 1960 to the census in 2000, the total population grew from an estimated 8 million to 23.3 million persons. The annual population growth rate averaged 2.6 percent for that period, gradually declining to 1.8 percent for 2005–6. Government figures for the first quarter of 2006 put the total population at 26.5 million. In 2000 the state with the highest population was Selangor (4.2 million), and Labuan had the lowest population (76,067). Total population figures include approximately 1.4 million non-Malaysian citizens, who comprised 5.9 percent of the total population in 2000. From 1960 to 2000, population density grew from 24 to 71 persons per square kilometer. In 2000 population density was lowest in the state of Sarawak (17 persons per square kilometer) and highest in the federal region of Kuala Lumpur (5,676 persons per square kilometer). From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of the population residing in urban areas increased from 25 to 62 percent.

According to the 2000 census, 50.9 percent of the population was male and 49.1 percent female. Furthermore, 33.3 percent of the population was less than 15 years of age, 62.8 percent was 15 to 59 years of age, and 3.9 percent was 65 years of age or older. According to government data, from 1980 to 2005 life expectancy at birth increased from 66.4 to 71.8 years for males and from 70.5 to 76.2 years for females. During the same period, the crude birthrate fell from 30.9 to 19.6 births per 1,000 persons, the crude death rate fell from 5.3 to 4.4 deaths per 1,000 persons, and the infant mortality rate fell from approximately 23.9 to 5.1 deaths under one year of age per 1,000 live births. However, these figures often vary among ethnic groups.

From 1991 to 2000, the literacy rate for persons aged 10 to 64 years of age increased from 88.6 percent to 93.5 percent. Government-assisted schools provide free education for children between ages six and 18, but only primary education (ages six to 12) is compulsory. In 2003 Malaysia operated 7,498 primary schools and 1,916 secondary schools and also funded specialized schools for religious education and special education. Primary education starts at age six, secondary education at age 12, and students may attend vocational or technical schools in lieu of the final four years of secondary education. Private schools receive no government funds but are subject to government regulation.

Bahasa Malaysia is the principal language of instruction. Chinese and Tamil are used only in primary education. English is taught as a second language. In 1994 English-language instruction was introduced to promote multiethnic socialization and to improve science and mathematics education. By 2003 legislation required that all mathematics and science courses be taught in English. Educational policies frequently have contentious overtones, often because of perceived ethnic discrimination.

Observers often contend that the government has become very successful at managing social welfare and poverty reduction. Indeed, many development agencies have limited or ended their activities in Malaysia. The Department of Social Welfare administers 48 facilities that provide services for elderly persons, juvenile offenders, physically and mentally disabled persons, and others. The Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) administers social insurance, such as medical and disability benefits, for people—and their dependents—who are injured or killed in the course of employment. Available data suggest that from 1975 to 2002 the number of persons receiving social welfare services ranged from 4,000 to 6,000 persons annually, and that the number of persons receiving social insurance increased from 9,348 to 239,372. The Employee Provident Fund (EPF) provides retirement benefits derived from compulsory contributions from employees and the government. From 1975 to 2002, the number of employees who contributed to the EPF increased from 2.9 million to 10.2 million.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2017 18:56:21 ZULU