By Maalini Ramalo
WE commend the Home Minister YB Dato Seri’ Hamzah Zainudin for utilizing the National Television to speak on the recent issue of the laws and SOPs of citizenship acquisition pathways and the importance of marriage registration in accessing citizenship, as aired on 11 October 2021, from 8.40 pm onwards on Bernama News.
However, it’s perplexing that despite a huge backlog of cases relating to children’s access to citizenship, the National Registration Department (NRD) and the Home Ministry continue to shift the burden of fault on the children who are victims of the practiced law and on parents’ inability to register marriages.
Not all children seeking citizenship in Malaysia have alternate options to access citizenship from another country or another parent. These children are either biological children of at least one Malaysian parent, adopted by a Malaysian parent or abandoned in Malaysia. It is obvious and established that the current practiced law does narrowly practice gender discrimination and avoidance from automatically protecting those adopted by Malaysian parents and those abandoned in Malaysia.
NGOs like Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA), Malaysia and alike have carefully identified the needs and defended the rights of individuals who otherwise would be left stateless if not addressed immediately. Stateless persons are individuals who do not have access to any other country citizenship and have the strongest link to Malaysia. While we speak of the invisible children it is important to recognize the emotional and financial burden a Malaysian parent faces to care for a stateless child.
While Ministers are to abide by the Federal Constitution, a policymaker’s role is to identify and bring changes on policies that are not in the best interest of its nation and its most vulnerable population i.e. the children in the long run. While the MCO has stalled many of the advocacy meetings, to our further dismay, despite reaching out several times to the relevant Ministry we could not effectively engage and participate in the discourses and best practices to mitigate the issue at hand. It is important that government utilizes a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) to identify and fast track the neediest access to citizenship instead of turning a blind eye on the most obvious population who really have no access to another country citizenship and are loyal to Malaysia.
If large numbers of children are affected due to parents’ marriage registration status, it is also important to learn that affected stateless children are of parents who could not register their marriages due to the very fact the parent himself or herself is stateless (i.e. stateless woman who cannot register her marriage and continues to pass on the stateless status to her children). Migrants who became undocumented in Malaysia and eventually abandoning their Malaysian families are also a large contributor to childhood statelessness.
Hence, it is worth questioning, if enough awareness has been continuously raised among the grassroots community on the importance of marriage registrations to protect our very own Malaysians. We hope the current government has the political will, to effectively bring changes on an issue that is affecting thousands of Malaysian parents and families, and to put a stop to children being born stateless in this country.
*Maalini Ramalo is a Director of Social Protection, DHRRA Malaysia at 012-6356351 or [email protected]press release DHRRA