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The invisible children — Syerleena Abdul Rashid

September 16, 2023

Article by Syerleena Abdul Rashid published in MalayMail and MalaysiaKini:

SEPTEMBER 16 — The plight of stateless children in Malaysia is an issue that demands urgent attention from both the public and policymakers alike. These children, who are born into a state of legal limbo, face a life marred by a lack of access to basic services such as education, healthcare, and employment opportunities, rendering them virtually invisible in the eyes of the state. A stateless child is not just a child without a country; it is a child stripped of future prospects and pushed to the fringes of society.

A significant portion of these children become stateless due to complex laws and bureaucratic entanglements that prevent them from obtaining citizenship, even if they are born in Malaysia. Problems often arise from gaps in documentation, parents who are themselves stateless, or regulations that make it difficult for mothers to pass their nationality onto their children.

Why should every Malaysian care? First of all, leaving these children stateless is a massive violation of human rights. Stateless children in Malaysia are being effectively stripped of their dignity and opportunities for personal development, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and neglect. These children grow into stateless adults who cannot legally work, pay taxes, or contribute to the social and economic fabric of Malaysia. Lacking legal rights and safeguards, these vulnerable individuals become easy targets for exploitation and involvement in illicit activities. By neglecting to address this pressing issue, we are also putting the broader well-being and stability of our nation at risk.

Further, the ongoing issue of statelessness intensifies social imbalances and rifts, essentially creating a marginalized underclass that's systematically disadvantaged. This not only heightens social discord but also wears away at the cohesive ties that hold communities together. Given Malaysia's already complex ethnic and religious tapestry, it is crucial that we tackle problems that can exacerbate division and discord. Stateless children are often from minority groups, and their statelessness can become yet another fault line in a country striving for unity.

So where do we go from here? One compassionate yet practical approach is to revisit and refine our citizenship laws. By simplifying administrative processes, showing understanding for documentation gaps, and allowing a humane level of flexibility in unique or complicated situations, we can make meaningful strides toward justice. Additionally, these reforms should be accompanied by public awareness campaigns that inform communities about the importance of proper documentation and the avenues available for legal recourse.

While legislative reform is crucial, we must not underestimate the invaluable contributions made by NGOs and civil society organizations. These entities have been working relentlessly, providing both immediate assistance and sustainable solutions to uplift stateless children. From grassroots activism to legal support, they frequently serve as the vital link connecting these marginalised children to essential resources. A collaborative effort between governmental agencies and these organizations could accelerate positive outcomes.

The issue of child statelessness in Malaysia is more than a crisis — it is a heartrending situation that demands our immediate action and empathy. This isn't just a complex tangle of laws and bureaucracy; it Is a devastating reality that has far-reaching consequences on a human, social, and economic level. By confronting this egregious breach of human rights, we are doing more than just bettering the lives of these marginalised children; we are also shaping a Malaysia steeped in fairness, unity, and prosperity — a country that we can all be proud to belong to.


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