Who are Malaysia's Stateless Children?

By Athira Nortajuddin

The ASEAN Post

Original article here.

Who are Malaysia's Stateless Children?

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC), every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name and the right to acquire a nationality. Unfortunately, according to a report – a child born in Malaysia does not automatically obtain Malaysian citizenship, which has led to many stateless children who are sometimes referred to as ‘undocumented children’ in the country.

In 2016, the former home minister of Malaysia, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi estimated that there are around 290,000 stateless children in the country. However, it is unclear of the exact number of stateless individuals given the nature of the problem. Contrary to popular belief, many people who are stateless in Malaysia are not foreigners, refugees or “illegal migrants”; many of them were actually born in the country and have been living in Malaysia most of their lives, according to local media reports.

There are several factors leading to the creation of stateless children in Malaysia – failure of marriage registration by their parents, unregistered births, adopted or abandoned children, and children of refugees and undocumented migrants.

Unfortunately, stateless children in Malaysia do not have access to a formal education as most public schools do not accept foreigners or undocumented children. Even if they somehow managed to attend school, they are not entitled to education perks such as the Textbook Loan Scheme. A tertiary education in Malaysia would also be as difficult for stateless individuals as they would have to pay foreign student fees which are generally higher and won’t be entitled to a National Higher Education Fund Corporation - or better known locally as PTPTN – loan.

Moreover, stateless children are also denied the right to legal employment, public services and even healthcare in Malaysia. Malaysians are able to use their Identification Card (IC) for unlimited use of public transport for a nominal fee of RM100 (US$23) a month. However, this scheme is not applicable to foreigners or those without an IC. Apart from that, the cost of healthcare in Malaysia is higher for non-citizens which means that foreigners, including stateless and undocumented individuals without an IC would need to pay more for consultations and medication at local clinics and hospitals. This has raised concerns among members of the public regarding the wellbeing of stateless people in Malaysia amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.

For many years now, child activists and organisations such as The Family Support Group for Stateless Malaysian Children have been fighting for the rights of children and stateless persons in the country. Many believe that it is unfair for a person born and raised in Malaysia to be treated as a foreigner.

Stateless children, through no fault of their own, inherit circumstances that limit their potential. They are born, live and, unless they can resolve their situation, die as almost invisible people.

90% of the students Dignity serves are non-Malaysians, this includes stateless, migrants, refugees, etc. 

For more information on our work and education programmes for the marginalised, click here.

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