Having operated for more than a year, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) have identified statelessness among children, as a critical issue of utmost importance. First and foremost, the classification of ‘stateless’ without any identity and identification is an infringement of Article 8 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), while reservation of Article 7, the right to nationality should be lifted by Malaysia. Stateless children are deprived of their right to education as current laws only allow citizen children to attend public schools. Non-citizen children are burdened with expensive school fees or forced to attend alternative schools which are unable to provide standardised and quality education. Stateless children are also denied free medical care, easily exploited and abused. Above all, they are unable to voice their predicaments and are continuously discriminated.
From the consultations and dialogues organized by the OCC with governmental and non-governmental organisations on this issue, there are three main reasons why stateless children exist in Malaysia. First, due to irregularity of marriage which leads to unregistered births (discrimination on children born out of wedlock); second, on the issue of inconsistency of procedures at the National Registration Department (NRD) at the district and state level; and third, the laws referred for the subject matter, i.e., the Federal Constitution (FC) and the Adoption Act 1952, are needed to be reformed.
For Sabah and Sarawak, both states carry additional issues wherein their extensive geographical land areas have limited rural people from both states access to the registration office located in the city. Furthermore, for Sarawak, the Special Committee (JKK) which was established prior to year 2018 to review the application for citizenship had been dissolved and is no longer active.
Among the ways found to solve the issue are:
(i) There should be more awareness programmes conducted to raise awareness among the society on the importance of regularisation of marriage;
(ii) The Ministry of Home Affairs must execute the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) which was already established on 1 January 2020 to expedite the citizenship’s application process;
(iii) All the NRD branches whether at Federal or State level must reform and standardise their administrative system to avoid inconsistency in their procedures;
(iv) Article 14(1)(b) and Second Schedule, Part II, Section 1 (b) and Section 17 in the FC must be reformed to prevent statelessness among children; and
(v) The Adoption Act 1952 must be reviewed to allow the adopted child to have the same rights as the biological child of the adoptive parents.
The OCC is determined to pursue all the above solutions to ensure the issue will be resolved by 2023.