Ms Chocaholic with lots of opinions and an attitude

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Undocumented, unregistered, forgotten

“Every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name.”

This is a statement from Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that clearly states the right of the child to an identity.

Yet millions of persons remain stateless. According to UNICEF figures close to 50 Million people worldwide are “international orphans” – people without citizenship or nationality. The issue is one that is prevalent in every region in the world, in varying forms and degrees. These people are in theory stateless, and legally they do not even exist!

Now imagine you are an unregistered child. If you are lucky, you have been immunized, receive health care and go to school. However, as you grow older, you will find the lack of a birth certificate increasingly burdensome. You will be unable to sit for national examinations or go on to university. You will be unable to get a social security number to confirm your eligibility to work. You will be unable to get a passport so that you can travel. Eventually you will work your way through all the bureaucracy, but the process will be very costly and complex, and you will wish your parents had registered you at birth. You will wish you had a birth certificate.

The problem of statelessness is not exclusive and exists in all parts of the world. In Malaysia the groups without documents include the Orang Asli, children of migrant Philippines, and those whose parents do not have or cannot prove any form of identity. Most are of ethnic Indian origin who have been in the country for generations, but till today, are not recognized as citizens.

Their forefathers and succeeding generations worked in plantations and lived their entire lives within these estates. Yet despite their active economic and cultural contribution to society, they are not recognised by the law, and thus denied their basic rights. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation together with our partner ERA Consumer Malaysia as part of our minority women empowerment project has done extensive work to highlight this problem to relevant authorities and publicising the issue through various media. The Community Centres operated as part of the project have assisted individuals with the process of obtaining legal documents, and at the same time awareness seminars have been conducted at the district and state levels.

Malaysia has one of the highest registration rate, at about 94 per cent. It is the last 6 miles that is hard, yet most crucial as usually these tend to be the most vulnerable and disadvantaged that are left out.

The issue of the stateless Malaysians should concern all citizens because of their growing numbers. Lack of legal identification lead to unequal employment opportunities or any kind of employment at all, related socio-economic hardship, violation of human rights that include access to basic education, health care, freedom of movement, access to political processes, amongst others. On the whole these factors restrict not only personal development of the concerned group, but also their productive contribution to the socio-economic advancement of the country.

Many are also living in fear of being seen and questioned by authority. The fear of deportation is particularly worrisome for the stateless Indian Malaysians, as the question is where would they be deported to? They were born in the country and have lived in Malaysia for generations. Malaysia is their home, it is all they know.



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