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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saya Anak Malaysia - A Withering Dream of the Stateless Child

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While we protest over the proposed hike of the Astro bill, moan over increase of price of our favourite eateries and criticize high taxes for luxury cars, there are still families out there today begging in front of the National Registration Department for years and in some cases decades for the basic blue card that will free them from the shackles of helplessness and poverty. 
Vivegavalen Vadi Valu 
“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man" - Rabindranath Tagore
Let us for a moment put aside politics, race and religion and ask ourselves how low collectively as a society have we come that fifty-six years on after independence, the headline “girl drinks bleach in an attempted suicide for failing to obtain a Mykad” become something of a media sensation? The thing is, instead of pure devastation at the failure of a country on the most basic of levels, this has become somewhat a norm.
The solemnity of this is that an undocumented child legally does not exist and is defenceless against all form of exploitation and rights violation. A child who is not considered as a national by the State under the operation of its legal provisions is paradoxically an illegal being. An undocumented child who is unable to provide the documents necessary to prove that they are a citizen of a country do not qualify for medication, education and any form of social benefits. They are for all purposes invisible, lower even than murderers and rapists alike for even they are considered human.
Now, the constitution provides that for a child to be considered a Malaysian citizen both or one of the parents are legally recognized as Malaysian or a holder of permanent resident status. However, in some cases, to determine the status of the child, the marriage status of the parents is also called into question. Above all, if the mother is a permanent resident or Malaysian, the child automatically qualifies as a legal citizen. Furthermore, the United Nations Convention of Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was signed and ratified by Malaysia in 1995 designed to uphold the country’s commitment to protection of the welfare of minors. Among the core foundations of the Convention were non-discrimination, in that all children, regardless of their race or religion, rich or poor, must be treated equally and the right of every single child to a nationality.
A child is supposed to be the greatest gift of God, held so sacrosanct for they come to this world full of hope and promise, without prejudice, a blank canvas of potential. Alas, in the day and age of supercomputers and genetic engineering, we find the excuse given to a twelve year old girl as reason for denial of her citizenship – a fairer skin colour as compared to her mother. Then again, this is after all a country where certain politicians may descend from India and Indonesia and yet it need not matter so long as they form part of a certain race, no? Don’t get me wrong, I am not questioning the special rights accorded to the many but rather the denial of rights accorded to the few.
The United Nations in its UNCHR Global Report 2010 estimates an approximate 120 000 stateless people living in Malaysia and of which 40 percent are children. This damning statistic proves the fallacy of the legal and registration system as well as a severe lack of effort on the part of the incumbent to address this issue. The morality in this is so perverse that it should engulf every individual with the deepest sense of guilt and an obligation to do something, anything, so as to speak for those who cannot.
The sad disposition facing the country as a whole is the politicising and racial profiling of any and all issues. However, this is one matter that we cannot allow to be dragged down that path. While we protest over the proposed hike of the Astro bill, moan over increase of price of our favourite eateries and criticize high taxes for luxury cars, there are still families out there today begging in front of the National Registration Department for years and in some cases decades for the basic blue card that will free them from the shackles of helplessness and poverty.
I call then for the Government of Malaysia to immediately set up an independent commission to review the legal framework in place when determining a child’s qualifying criteria for citizenship as well as implementing policies that centralizes on attacking the problem at its root cause, in this case, the issue of documentation and alternative solutions where it lacks.
These children are our future, fight for them, protect them and if ever should you falter in your quest for a better Malaysia or lose hope that tomorrow will not bring the change you seek, look to the eyes of a child and you will see hopes and dreams blinded by race or religion. That, above all is reason enough.

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