MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Friday, September 29, 2023

Stateless mum's bittersweet reunion with two-year-old daughter

For two years, a stateless Bajau Laut mother feared she would never see her child again. Born premature, the newborn was allegedly taken from her without consent by the District Welfare Department at the Lahad Datu Hospital.

On Sept 18, three days after Malaysiakini highlighted her plight in an exclusive report about stateless mothers losing their infants, she was reunited with her daughter.

But this turned out to be a bittersweet episode.

The mother of six was forced to bid farewell to her toddler again after learning of her congenital heart disease. She would not be able to afford the medical expenses to treat the condition.

“I willingly gave custody of my child to the foster parents because I don't want her to die,” the mother, who wished to be known only as Aimah, told Malaysiakini.

“My child has a hole in the heart, and if I take my child back, I won't be able to afford the treatment,” she added.

READ MORE: Baby snatching: How stateless mums lose their babies in Sabah hospital

Aimah, who last saw her daughter when the newborn was recovering in the NICU in September 2021, held her child for a brief moment during the reunion.

“I will be grateful if my child lives a long life but even if she didn’t have a long life, I would continue to be grateful to God,” she said.

No medical report confirming the child’s ailment was produced to Aimah or her husband.

On the other hand, the foster parents, who are Malaysians, cannot pass on their citizenship to the child and might have to foot the exorbitant foreigners fee for treatment.

However, it was revealed at the reunion that treatment would be free if the baby was treated at the Lahad Datu Hospital.

Child protection officer followed procedure

In response to these latest developments, the Women, Family, and Community Development Ministry clarified that Aimah’s child was not adopted but placed under the custody of suitable and appropriate persons in accordance with the Child Act 2001 (Act 611).

The ministry claims that the child protection officer in this case had followed the Child Regulation (Fit and Proper Persons 2017 amendments).

“However, the process needs to go through the latest guidelines for the Management of Child Placement to Foster Parents and Suitable and Appropriate Persons (OYLS) as an additional step,” read the statement.

The district officer is also required to improve documentation procedures and case files to ensure this child’s case is documented systematically.

Lahad Datu District Council Building 

On Sept 20, the ministry issued a statement believed to be referring to Aimah. It described the case as an “old” incident which was resolved after the mother turned down an offer for custody.

The ministry lodged a police report the same day to deny the allegations in Malaysiakini’s report.

Aimah’s baby discharged at 9 months

In 2021, the Lahad Datu Hospital reportedly claimed Aimah left the child unattended after two months, resulting in the Welfare Department’s intervention. The department then deemed Aimah an unfit parent.

The ministry, in its version of the events, said the baby was left at the hospital for three months - a stand that it upholds in its latest response.

However, during the reunion last Monday, the foster father related how the child was diagnosed three months into her hospital admission and was only discharged when she was nine months old.

According to hospital practices, its Medical Social Work Department will call the Welfare Department to highlight cases that need to be investigated. It is unclear who in the Lahad Datu Hospital called the child protection officer.

Aimah denied abandoning her child and asserted she was denied access to her baby.

“Back then, they said they would report me to the police because I abandoned my child. I did not abandon my child. I love my babies, all of them,” she told Malaysaikini after the reunion.

The Health Ministry could not be reached for a response.

‘I see daughter’s guardian as a brother now’

During the reunion, Aimah was told her child would require one more operation in November.

She is looking forward to seeing her child again as the ministry has confirmed the biological parents can have visitation scheduled at the convenience, safety and welfare of the appointed guardians coordinated through the child protection officer at agreed locations.

“For two years I was looking for my baby, but on Friday, he (child protection officer) contacted us (the village chief and Aimah) to tell us my child was found,” said Aimah.

Aimah, her husband and her child’s foster parents at the reunion

Recalling the reunion, she said the foster father broke down and apologised to her.

“He told me that he did not take the child on purpose. He only wanted to help my child. I felt sorry for them. They have been married for 11 years with no children. I see him as a brother now,” she added.

No paternity tests needed

A chronology of events outlines the expedient steps taken to transfer custody of Aimah’s baby to the foster parents after the Malaysiakini report but the Women’s Ministry confirms that the child protection officer who handled the case had followed established procedures.

It also claimed the officer’s numerous attempts at the initial stage to find Aimah were futile.

On the night of the Malaysiakini report, the child protection officer called Kampung Panji’s chief Fandry Alsao looking for Aimah to tell her that her baby had been found.

“I was shocked and surprised when they told me they found my baby,” Aimah said.

Crying all night, Aimah was hopeful she would get her child back the next day when the officer was expected to meet her at her water village that occupies a short stretch of the town’s coastline.

On Saturday, the officer only showed them a photo of Aimah’s daughter and delivered the bad news that the child was suffering from congenital heart disease and the foster parents were caring for her, covering all medical expenses.

An appointment for surrendering custody was fixed and the officer told Aimah to think about the matter over the weekend.

On Sept 18, the relevant parties met at the Lahad Datu District Council Office, where Aimah and her husband as well as the foster parents signed statutory declarations (SD).

The foster parents signed to accept custody while Aimah and her husband placed their thumbprints surrendering their rights over the toddler.

Aimah and her husband’s SD

Both SDs were attested by the Lahad Datu magistrate.

No form of paternity test was conducted but the officer informed Aimah he knew the baby was hers because the incubator was labelled with the mother’s name.

The officer’s new stand on the paternity issue varied from his first interview with Malaysiakini where he had demanded Aimah prove the child was hers.

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