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NGOs doubt new move can protect at-risk children

The Star - 23 January 2015 - NON-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on the welfare of stateless and migrant children in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur hope the Government can take heed of the situation here.

NON-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on the welfare of stateless and migrant children in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur hope the Government can take heed of the situation here.

It was announced in late November by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak when he visited Sabah that the children of stateless people would be given birth record documents instead of birth certificates.

This was reiterated by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) report which looked into the issue of illegal immigrants in Sabah.

The colour of the “record of birth” document is to be different from a citizen’s birth certificate.

However, the NGOs feel that such a move will not bring any change to the predicament of stateless children.

“If it is not stated that the document has any value, the children may still not be able to get formal education and basic healthcare. So, it does not provide a solution to the issue we are facing,” said Voice of the Children president Sharmila Sekaran.

She said the new solution offered seemed to only “respond to the insecurities in Sabah” and did not take into account the social, economical and humanitarian aspects of the issue.

Child rights activist Dr Hartini Zainudin said even though she was happy about the effort to legally register stateless children, confusion had surfaced with the new move.

“Does it apply to peninsular Malaysia or just Sabah? This move has a far-reaching impact. It can possibly create different types of stateless-ness, among other complications,” she said.

“And what does the birth record mean? Does it give them access to education, healthcare and protection?,” she queried.

Dr Hartini, who founded Yayasan Chow Kit and Pusat Jagaan Nur Salam, expressed disappointment that the tackling of this social issue had become “so politically driven.”

“The issuance of birth certificate has been misconstrued, that birth certificate leads to citizenship is furthest from the truth. Foreign children with Malaysian birth certificates, and even adopted by Malaysian parents, are unable to get citizenship,” she said.

NGOs in the Klang Valley are scrambling to handle a growing population of undocumented children as a result of an influx of migrant workers.

According to the Home Ministry’s records, there are 14,095 children whose citizenships were “yet to be determined” between 2003 and April last year.

Selangor (480) and Johor (302) are the states where this problem is most prevalent in peninsular Malaysia, while 87.7% of the children are in Sabah (8,128) and Sarawak (4,236).

Voice of the Children estimates about 100,000 stateless children in the country, based on data from NGOs and the government statistics.

“If there are only 14,095 children, why is there a need to conduct an RCI?” Sharmila asked.

The official figures also do not reflect the number of children at high risk out there, as many migrant children may hold Non-Citizen birth certificates but do not enjoy basic rights similar to other undocumented children.

The NGOs could not provide the estimate as there had been little census done on migrant children.

Children trafficked, girls groomed for sexual business and started taking clients as young as 10 years old, and boys becoming pimps for their mothers are some ghastly cases volunteers at Voice of the Children have come across when providing legal and advocacy assistance.

Dr Hartini commented that policy-makers should re-look at the relevant policies as some of them were drawn up in the 1950s, and the Adoption Law even varied geographically.

“They should look at the Federal Constitution, understand what stateless-ness means and make policies in the best interest of the children,” she said.

Sharmila, who is a lawyer by profession, said the involvement of other Asean countries was essential to resolve the issue of stateless children.

“There needs to be an Asean response to this problem, to work with the neighbouring countries’ birth registration laws and if can be, we register the children and then pass the information to the relevant governments,” she said.

Before that can come through, Malaysia should provide the basic rights to education and healthcare to these children, she added.

“If the country does not provide these basic rights, we are only causing problem to ourselves because a generation of illiterates will surely drain and strain the nation,” she said.

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