Writer: Brenda Ch'ng
Published: Fri, 25 Jan 2013
HELPLESS cries of newborn babies are heard from the house next door... so deafening and uncomfortable that it sends shivers down the spine of those living near.
One moment the cry is loud and clear, the next moment the cries are gone, drowned into silence with the help of drugs to keep suspicious neighbours at bay.
These babies, believed to have been trafficked and sold for a price ranging from RM2,400 - RM4,500 or even more, are bound by rope so tightly that their ribs crack to prevent them from crying during their journey here from Third World countries.
After being sold, they are literally stuck here, forced to call Malaysia their home, prowling the streets with no form of identity, leaving them in a state of statelessness.
“It’s sad because they have no right to work, cannot leave the country, get married or even get a proper education because technically they do not exist... they are completely invisible under the law,” said an activist for stateless children and babies, Dr Hartini Zainudin.
The 50-year-old single mother of three children, all stateless when adopted by her, explained that a huge number of stateless babies here are victims of human trafficking.
According to the law, a child is only eligible to be a Malaysian citizen if they can prove that one of their parents is a Malaysian citizen.
However, if kidnapped at birth, there is literally no way of tracing the parentage of these babies, leaving them in a lurch as they cannot get an education or even leave the country to return to where they came from.
Hartini, who is also the founder of Nur Salam, a home for rescued stateless children and babies, pointed out that another major result of statelessness is abandoned babies, where some are just left on the streets.
Some children from the Yayasan Chow Kit (previously known as Nur Salam) home.
Nur Salam, which is now known as Yayasan Chow Kit, currently has 31 stateless children in its home, all victims of either abuse, abandonment or trafficking.
“Within the first nine months when I started Nur Salam in 2005 I received about 62 cases of stateless children and babies, involving about 100-plus individuals.
“You wouldn’t believe the huge number of stateless babies and children there actually are right here in Malaysia... my estimate would be minimum 100,000,” she said.
According to the International Observatory on Statelessness, there are currently about 20,000 registered stateless children in Sabah, with the unofficial estimates reaching as high as 70,000.
Most of these children are refugees from the palm oil plantations of the Philippines and Indonesia.
In the Klang Vally however, there are no documented number of stateless children and babies found but Hartini claims that the numbers are definitely in the thousands and not hundreds.
“I get at least two to three cases a week, people will be calling me asking me to pick up an abandoned child from anywhere like Setapak, Selayang, Klang and Bukit Bintang,” she said.
Hartini gets calls from all sorts of people, including traffickers, parents who want to abandon their child and even concerned residents who hear cries or witness abuse cases.
Among the jaw-dropping cases she got was when a child was literally left in her arms at the bus stop, and the parent/guardian fled the scene so quickly that no words were exchanged, except for the parent/guardian saying “please take her as I can no longer take care of her.”
Hartini explained that the parent/guardian called her and asked her for help about getting citizenship for the child and that was what led her to meet with them.
“These children and babies I get do not have birth certificates or any identity on them 90% of the time,” she said.
Currently she is working with 15 individuals who do not have a birth certificate or MyKad and despite her years of experience in this matter, is still finding it a challenge to obtain identities for them.
She further pointed out that the severity of these cases and the endless number
of stateless children she picks up and finds is what drove her to open Yayasan Chow Kit and being involved in this area.
“I believe that every child is entitled to an identity and the laws should be amended in a way that all children born here are automatically Malaysians.
“We at Nur Salam are advocating for that right but the implementations of it at the Home Affairs Ministry is still a tricky situation,” she said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Article 7, it states that:
“A child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality…”
Article 8 of the CRC further states that “where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.”
However, in Malaysia this is still not being practised as when the laws were drawn up some 55 years ago after independence, lawmakers did not take into account the cases of abandoned and trafficked children.
Locating the parentage of these children is close to impossible as firstly, the parents either cannot or do not want to be found and secondly, most of these babies are trafficked, explained Hartini.
“The first way to protect a baby is the birth certificate followed by a MyKad but sadly we are one of the few countries in the world where getting a birth certificate does not automatically mean a citizenship,” she said.
Most of the time, some babies cannot even obtain a birth certificate because the document in question requires the names and information of the birth parents.
Meanwhile, another welfare centre involved with the case of stateless babies is Orphan Care Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose aim is to give abandoned babies and orphans a proper home.
Some of the orphans they pick up from orphanages and paired with a loving family are mostly stateless, who would have otherwise be invisible under the law if not for the adoption process.
“We try to promote the adoption of stateless children so that they will ha
ve a better future being placed with the adoptive parents... at least they will have someone to help them fight for an identity,” said Orphan Care Foundation Trustee Datin Elya Lim Abdullah.
Another case of statelessness is newborn babies who are left in the centre’s baby hatch, usually abandoned by unwed mothers who want to remain anonymous.
They leave the baby there and flee, leaving Orphan Care no details about the baby or his/her parents.
This makes it difficult for Orphan Care and the adoptive parents to get a birth certificate, MyKid and in future a MyKad.
“It’s not easy, but not impossible. We are very optimistic and we know very well that if adoptive parents can get citizenship for the children, they will try hard to get it,” she said.
Elya further pointed out that stateless babies had been a problem from a time when Malaysia came into being and according to the ministry, they cannot just give citizenship to everybody, even those who have been living here for 60-plus years.
“This situation is definitely a nationwide issue... when and how they are going to relax the rules, we don’t know but we have been appealing every single case we’ve got so far,” she said.
So far Orphan Care has received about five babies from the baby hatch and all have been successfully given up for adoption.
Their status will remain stateless for two years, in the probational period set by the Welfare Department to monitor the parents and child.
After this period, the parents will be allowed to proceed with the adoption process and appeal for a MyKid for the child.