Why make life so difficult for stateless Malaysians?

Ms T, a 26 year old mother of 3 children, is one of the several thousand stateless persons in Malaysia. Her father was a Malaysian citizen, and she was born in a government hospital in Perak. Article 14(1)(b) read together with Part II, 1a of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution, stipulates that any person born in Malaysia after Malaysia Day of whose parents, at least one is either a citizen or a permanent resident, should be conferred citizenship by operation of law.

However, in Ms T’s case, this right was withheld by Registration Department because of their overly strict interpretation of Article 17 of Part III of the Second Schedule. This section reads “references to a person’s father . . .are, in relation to a person who is illegitimate, to be construed as references to his/her mother ” Ms T’s father’s name is recorded in her birth certificate, as is her mother’s, but as her parents had not registered their marriage, Ms T and her 3 siblings were all adjudged “illegitimate” by the Registration Department. As their mother, Mdm K had no documents, all four of them were not granted Malaysian citizenship. Incidentally, Mdm K could not register her marriage because she did not hold an identity card.  

Mdm K had no documents because, though her father had a red identity card (was a permanent resident), he could not register his marriage to Mdm K’s mother, Mdm L, as she too, had no documents.

Mdm L’s parents were citizens of Malaysia, but her father (Mr K), who was partial to alcohol, had used the birth certificates of his two children as collateral for a loan. Mdm L’s brother, Mr V managed to settle the loan, re-acquire his birth certificate, and register for a blue identity card. The same wasn’t done for Mdm L, so she went through life without documents. The Chart below summarises the situation. (Squares denote males and circles females. Blue = citizens of Malaysia; Red = Stateless)


Mr K’s indiscretions sometime in the late 1950s has cascaded down 4 generations! The persons marked with asterisks took their own lives when in their teens or in early adulthood. Life as a member of the bottom 20% of Malaysian society isn’t too easy. It becomes even more difficult when one does not have an identity card. Education is thwarted, jobs in the formal sector are out of bounds because employers require an identity card number to register their workers for EPF and SOCSO. The “stateless” are therefore constrained to contract labour.  They cannot get a driving license or open a bank account. They often get picked up and detained by the police for not having an identity card.         

Ms T and her mother Mdm K came to a PSM service centre in 2014. We put in a late registration for Mdm K’s birth certificate in 2016 in Tangkak, Johor as that was where she was born. Mr V, her maternal uncle was the applicant as both Mdm K’s mother and father had passed away. After a period of 3 years the registration department sent a terse letter informing Mr V that his application to register the birth of his niece was rejected. No reasons were given.

We then did DNA studies (this costs RM 1500) to prove that Mr V truly is a close relative of Mdm K, and re-applied for her birth certificate in 2021. In this application we requested that she be recognized as Malaysian citizen, arguing that going by Part II 1(a) of the Second Schedule, Mdm K’s maternal grandmother’s citizenship should devolve to Mdm K although her mother Mdm L failed to procure an identity card for herself. We also put forward an alternative argument based on Part II 1(e) of the Second Schedule which states that “every person born within the Federation (after Malaysia Day) who is not born a citizen of any other country” should be conferred citizenship by operation of law.

The Putrajaya Registration Department finally issued a birth certificate to Kamaladevi in 2022, but that did not solve this family’s problem, for it stated that she was not a citizen. (The Registration Department often acts as though one of their Key Performance Indices is the percentage of citizenship applications they can turn down in a year!)

We then decided to bring the matter to Court. Amerbon agreed to do the case pro-bono and today, 3/4/24, a team of lawyers headed by Mr New Sin Yew, submitted on the points mentioned above at the Taiping High Court. The Judge has fixed 20th May as the day for her decision. Hopefully the statelessness nightmare that has afflicted this family for the past 60 years will finally be put to rest.

There are several thousand people like Mdm K and Ms T in our country. And they lead difficult lives. The Government really should sit down with the Ministry of Home Affairs and get them to see that making things difficult for this group of people is not helping anyone – not the stateless definitely, not other citizens nor the nation itself. Being mean with them, will not result in their emigrating somewhere else. How can they? They have been in this country for generations, where would they go? And how would they leave without having a passport?

This group of stateless Malaysian residents are not criminals. Their only “crime” is being poor, apathetic and perhaps, having a fore-father who was not quite responsible. They are not a security threat to the nation. The current Home Ministry approach doesn’t make sense. Marginalizing a group of long- term residents in Malaysia and preventing their development does not benefit the nation in any way. 

The Government should consider a minor amendment to the Federal Constitution that would be of great help to this group of stateless persons. The words “who is illegitimate” in Article 17 of Part III of the Second Schedule should be substituted with the words “whose biological father cannot be identified”. The amended Article 17 would then read “references to a person’s father . . .are, in relation to a person whose biological father cannot be identified, to be construed as references to his/her mother ” This would greatly reduce the perpetuation of inter-generational statelessness in the country. We hope the Minister of Home Affairs will look into this suggestion. It would save a lot of paperwork, and will make Malaysia a kinder nation.                       

Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia