Pic by Azhar Ramli

EVERY child has rights. A right to live, healthcare, education — the basic necessities. Yet, reportedly, there are some 131,810 stateless children in the country between 2011 and April last year. This is a conservative estimate, but substantial enough to be of concern. Not having been registered at birth, and with no official identification, these children have fallen through the cracks of legality. Even though the Child Act 2001 affirms that all children are entitled to protection and assistance irrespective of, inter alia, social origin or status, the majority of stateless children have no proper access to healthcare and are unable to attend school.

A case in point is 7-year-old Tan Yao Chun, in our exclusive report today. He was born at a hospital in Hatyai and issued a birth certificate by the Hatyai City Hospital, but his Malaysian father did not register Yao Chun’s birth at the Malaysian embassy in Thailand. The grandmother had tried to register him with the Kedah National Registration Department, but her application was rejected. This is just one of many examples. There are other cases of children whose stateless status is the result of their Malaysian parent not registering their marriage with foreign spouses before the children were born.

Under Section 1(e) of the Federal Constitution, any child born in Malaysia, who is not the citizen of another country, automatically becomes a Malaysian citizen; “every person born within the Federation of whose parents, one at least is at the time of the birth either a citizen or permanent resident in the Federation, is a citizen by operation of law”. The law is clear, yet stateless children exist. How is this possible?

The issue of statelessness is not new. Most of the cases are due to parents’ ignorance, concealed second marriages and children born out of wedlock. But failing to register a child’s birth is not an excuse. It is the responsibility of parents to register their marriages or their children’s birth. Children should not be made victims of their parents’ folly. The onus here is on the parents — they need to be aware that their children may risk becoming stateless if their marriage is not registered or if children are not registered at birth. When children are stateless, they have no access to education and healthcare, making them vulnerable to the vagaries of life.

Birth registration is the state’s official record of a child’s birth and a government’s first acknowledgement of a child’s existence. It is, therefore, crucial in ensuring a culture of protection. Lack of birth registration can cause statelessness. A stateless person is one who is not a citizen of any country. The United Nations states that a stateless person is one who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law, which means he is “invisible” in the eyes of the law. While it is imperative to ensure that our social fabric is well protected from those who are willing to do almost anything to falsely claim to be citizens, there is also a pressing need to look for ways or a mechanism to help innocent children.

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