I REFER to the recent discussion about Muslim children born or conceived out of wedlock being denied their father’s name on the birth certificate and being given the patro-nym “Abdullah” instead.
Refusing a child his or her father’s name is not only a form of discrimination, but will lead to them being stigmatised for the rest of their lives.
In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Malaysia in 1995, the “best interests of the child” should be paramount in any decision concerning him.
Labelling a child as “illegitimate” cannot be considered in his or her best interests.
Article 7 of the CRC reserves for every child the right from birth to a name.
As noted by the CRC, this includes the children’s ability to make use of their full original names as chosen by themselves, their parents or other legal guardians.
Additionally, Article 2 of the CRC states that young children must be protected from all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians or family members.
Thus, provisions or procedures that do not allow the child to carry the name of either parent do not favour the realisation of a child’s rights.
A child’s earliest years are the foundation of his or her physical and mental health, emotional security, cultural and personal identity, and competencies.
The shame of being labelled illegitimate makes the child vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and abuse, such as bullying. In the long run, it undermines his or her chances of enjoying a happy and healthy life.
The unintended consequences of refusing a child either parent’s name is that parents may decide not to register their child in order to avoid the shame.
This, in turn, would result in unregistered children, who are then at risk of statelessness.
As a result, the children will face difficulty in accessing healthcare and education to the detriment of themselves, their family, community and ultimately, the state.
Young children are especially at risk of discrimination because they are relatively powerless and depend on others for the realisation of their rights.
As institutions with authority over them, state parties have a responsibility to do all they can to protect them and always consider their best interests.
MARIANNE CLARK-HATTINGH, Representative in Malaysia, United Nations Children’s Fund