CHILDREN cannot be stateless. Every child is born to parents, thus entitling him to a birth certificate of the country where the parents are citizens. But, there are many children in the country who do not have birth certificates because parents are negligent; they have not registered the births at the National Registration Department (NRD) or, if born abroad, at the Malaysian embassies or high commissions. The consequence is that these children, because they are not Malaysians — nor are they citizens of any other country — cannot enjoy the benefits provided by the state, like education. And, unfortunately, their numbers run into the hundreds of thousands. Given Malaysia’s rather small population, this is a large number.

Obviously, late registration is the problem. The boy in Changlun, Kedah, is an example. But, why this is a problem is unfathomable given that he has a Malaysian father, unless, of course, the NRD disputes this.

Today’s science can prove paternity beyond any reasonable doubt. If the child is indeed the father, then a DNA screening can confirm it in mere days.

Furthermore, a circular on the issue of stateless children had been sent out to all state education departments since March 2009, which states that such children can register at any government or government-aided school if one parent is Malaysian. Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan said yesterday all that was needed was for the parent or guardian to get a support letter from a figure of authority, like a village head, to facilitate the school enrolment process, as in the case of Tan Yao Chun, 7, of Changlun, Kedah. If there is a circular, why are there still cases of children without documents unable to attend school? State education departments should refer to the circular in such cases. And, schools must comply. How many more stateless children like Tan had been denied basic education over the years due to a procedural oversight? A child, as the law states, has rights, and among the rights is education.

The NRD, too, by all accounts, should facilitate the application by parents or guardians for a birth certificate for their children if they had done so. Given that procedures are fixed, every application, whether new or delayed, should be processed accordingly. It starts from the simple fact that a child is born to parents, who must make it a point to register their children’s birth. Parents applying for their children’s birth certificate must prove themselves, or at least one of them, to be citizens and the biological parents of the child. It is very straightforward: the parent’s identity card is proof of citizenship, which means a child of a Malaysian parent should mean the child is also Malaysian. And, it is also stated under the Federal Constitution that 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.

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