Ms K is a 43 year old mother of 4 children as well as the proud grandmother of two grandchildren. However there is a huge black cloud hanging over this family – all of its members are stateless.
The problem began a generation earlier. Ms K’s mother, Mdm L, never obtained her own identity card. Her stepfather used Mdm L’s and her younger brother’s birth certificates as collateral for a loan. He could not repay the loan and so did not apply for their identity cards (ICs) when the children turned 12. When the brother, V, began working he sought out the money lender and took back the birth certificates after settling the debt. V managed to obtain a blue IC with the birth certificate, but Mdm L didn’t follow up with the process that V initiated for her.
Mdm L was mired in poverty and was apathetic. She and her husband did not register the birth of two out of her three children – Ms K and her elder brother S. The second child was adopted at birth by the Chinese boss of Mdm L’s husband. The adoptee family managed to register her birth (giving the correct particulars for the parents) and this child went on to receive a blue IC.
Ms K married a Malaysian citizen, but they could not register the marriage (as she had no documents). Unfortunately, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has deemed that children from such a marriage cannot be conferred citizenship on the basis of their father’s citizenship as stipulated in Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution (FC) read in conjunction with Part II(1)(a) of the Second Schedule of the FC. The MHA cites Section 17 of Part III of the FC that reads “references to a person’s father are in relation to a person who is illegitimate to be construed as references to his mother” as the basis of this position. The MHA’s interpretation of section 17 is that a) such children are “illegitimate” as their parents’ marriage is not registered and b) their citizenship status has to be determined solely on the basis of their mother’s status. As a result, all 4 of Ms K’s children have “Citizenship not yet determined” in the relevant sections of their birth certificates.
Being stateless confers a whole host of problems. Schooling is difficult. Ms K and her uncle, V are illiterate. Ms K’s children went to primary school but dropped out in early secondary school. It is very difficult to enroll in any college for vocational or tertiary education. Stateless people cannot get jobs in the formal sector. Bosses are unwilling to employ anyone without an IC. “How do I register you for EPF and SOCSO?”, they ask. So stateless individuals have to work in insecure jobs in the non-formal sector, with stiff competition from the non-documented workers who accept jobs that pay less than the minimum wage. Access to health care too is problematic. Ms K’s daughter was billed RM3000 for the caesarean section done in a government hospital for her first child.
This situation breeds despair. S, Ms K’s elder brother hanged himself when aged 42 years. Two of her sons hanged themselves in their teens. This is what this sort of predicament leads to!
Ms K is a plucky woman. She came to see me 6 years ago to ask if I could help. I helped her apply for late registration of her birth. We managed to get Mr V, her maternal uncle who is in Johor, to be the main sponsor of this application (her parents had both passed on by then) and put in all the necessary documents in July 2015. Then there was silence. We wrote in to the Johore Registration Office several times with no response. Finally in May 2018 she was informed via a brief letter that her application to register her birth was rejected. No reasons were given. Neither was there any advice as to how to proceed or what further information was required.
We decided to re-submit the application with stronger evidence. We did a DNA study of Ms K and Mr V to prove that he was really her uncle. Then we looked for more family members to prepare statutory declarations regarding her family and her birth. That has taken almost 2 years to organize. Finally we went to the Registration Department in Putrajaya today (18/5/21) to submit the application. Fingers crossed!
But does this have to be so difficult? The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) really has to review the process and decide what level of proof they need in cases like this. Is it proof that is “beyond all possible doubt” that is required? Or a level of proof that satisfies a “balance of probabilities”? The MHA has to ask itself how it actually benefits the nation to make things so difficult for this unfortunate set of people – for there are quite a number of families like Ms K’s. However difficult we make it for them, they are not going to emigrate from Malaysia. Where can they go? And how will they go without a passport? But we can drive them to suicide, as this family’s history amply testifies.
Agreed, many of these cases are due to parental irresponsibility and neglect. We cannot blame the MHA for that. But if the effects of an instance of parental irresponsibility is allowed to blight the lives of subsequent generations, then MHA has to assess whether it has played a part in prolonging the suffering. In Ms K’s case, its now the fourth generation that is being affected. We really need to be more compassionate as a society. Marginalization and abject poverty can lead to ignorance, apathy and neglect. Shouldn’t we be more pro-active in rescuing the children and grandchildren of such demoralized parents and offer them a path to develop their potential and become useful members of our society?
The MHA should know that according to Section 1(e) of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution – every person born within the Federation after Malaysia Day who is not born a citizen of any other country is a citizen by operation of law. All of Ms K’s children should have been given citizenship based on this provision as they were born in Malaysia after 1963 and have no recourse to citizenship in any other country. An enlightened, pro-active MHA would have called the entire family in when Ms K applied in 2015 and counseled them how they should proceed in getting citizenship for the children and grandchildren instead of splitting hairs and looking for reasons to disqualifying her application.
I usually do not fight with the JPN staff at the counters, for they are only following very detailed SOPs that have been determined by people much higher in the hierarchy. It will require a cabinet level decision to make the relevant SOPs more humane. We can only hope that enlightened changes will be made before many more lives are blighted.
Ms K was hopeful when we left the JPN today. As we were walking to the car she showed me the earings she was wearing. “My son bought this for me,” she said, smiling. “He has been working contract for a few months and he saved to buy this.” I remarked that she was lucky to have such a caring son. “I think this time I will get my birth cert,” she said. Let’s hope she is right and that the long ordeal is about to end for this family.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia