"Illogical System cause of undocumented children"
Lawyer-cum-MP says the present law gives too much discretion to those in power granting citizenship, causing the rise of undocumented children
KUALA LUMPUR: The present law gives a lot of discretion to the Home Ministry in granting citizenship, and this has contributed to the problem of undocumented children, said lawmaker M Kulasegaran.
He said that the extensive discretion given somehow supersedes Article 15A of the Federal Constitution which clearly says if there are special circumstances then the child can be given citizenship.
The four considerations specified in the Court of Appeal Order to guide the Home Ministry when evaluating an application made under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution are – the person is under the age of 21 years who has no parents; the person who has a connection with the country; cases that would result in hardship; the best interest of the child.
Therefore, the ‘little Napoleons’ in the National Registration Department (NRD) who overlook Article 15A in the process of granting citizenship are complicating matters, said Kulasegaran, who is also a lawyer.
“Basically it is a very unfair, illogical system.. the discretion is used very easily and extensively without logic and reason,” said Kulasegaran when asked to comment on the status of abandoned babies and babies of unverified origin adopted by Malaysians.
He said more people were getting caught in this arbitrary process.
“Don’t have to go very far. I am the only one out of 222 MPs who was bestowed a red IC when I was 12 years old and only got a blue IC when I was 15 years old. I was a non-citizen for three years of my life,” said the Ipoh Barat DAP MP.
He said being born in the estate, he fought through the system and was lucky enough to come out a success story, but there are still so many who are not as lucky.
“My parents left the estate, worked hard and fought for me that I was able to leave the country and study law in London, come back and work then become an MP. Many of my friends are still languishing away in estates, jobless, who may not have even voted once in their lifetime. That’s the system we have,” he said.
Article 15A gives discretionary powers to the Home Ministry but unfortunately this is not used to the best advantage and in a civilised manner to do justice to that particular article, he added.
“I would say the little Napoleans in the various departments are frustrating (the system) and making it difficult, if not impossible, for these people to be granted citizenship papers,” said Kulasegaran.
He said that when these blunders on citizenship go to the courts, they were dealt with in an “inhumane” manner.
“The discretion given to them (NRD, Home Ministry) should be exercised judiciously, not at their whims and fancies. The courts also are sometimes inhumane. They will only show humanity if they go through what I went through. It was three years of uncertainty, being neither here nor there. It is worse than being an illegal immigrant.
“When you are not a citizen, you cannot sit for exams, can’t get hospital treatment, no EPF, can’t be legally employed or married, can’t get properties,” said Kulasegaran.
He was, however, thankful that in his case, it was an error that was corrected in three years, unlike so many more left in limbo.
He said what is worse is that abandoned babies are being deprived of citizenship although Article 15A was enacted for special cases who cannot prove citizenship.
“The government has gone ‘senile’ because when you go and adopt a baby, after the amendment was done in 97-98, the new birth certificate will not divulge that the child is adopted. Before the amendment it used to say anak angkat (adopted child) on the birth cert, now that is dropped, biological parents’ names also withdrawn so it looks natural and the child does not grow up in a different environment, doesn’t feel dejected, rejected.
“Now what these little Napoleans are doing is – if you adopt a child that is stateless or whose birth is suspicious or when the parents can’t be located, they provide birth certificate but it says ‘non-citizen’. I got that kind of cases now and I think it’s absolutely rubbish,” said Kulasegaran.
He said the process of granting a birth certificate without mentioning ‘adopted child’ and then including ‘non-citizen’ defeats the purpose of why the adoption law was amended in the first place, which was to avoid mental anguish, suffering and pain of the child that was not asked to be born in the first place.
“What are the authorities up to? If you can empower and give blue ICs in Sabah, Sarawak and to Indonesians who came yesterday, why not to our children? Where is the humanity? These kids are worse off because they can’t go to school at all. I have cases where children don’t go to school because of this. Don’t punish these children. I don’t know what’s the point. It is very unfair,” lamented the DAP national vice-chairman.
He further decried the mockery of giving blue ICs to senior citizens now, “when many of them have one leg in the grave at 75 and 80”.
“They have never voted, are at the dying stage, in wheelchairs and now they get recognised as citizens? That is not empowerment,” said Kulasegaran.
Early last month, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that the state NRD will gather information on the stateless Sarawakian Chinese and make the necessary recommendations on those who meet the criteria to be citizens.
He gave his commitment as home minister to address the matter without delay, and urged the Chinese community to help the NRD on the issue, adding that those born and bred in the state already qualify for citizenship, as granted under the Federal Constitution.