Activist: Adoption law in a legislative tangle

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PETALING JAYA: There is a lack of legislative consistency across the board nationwide when it comes to the adoption of children, and this bodes ill for stateless children, foundlings and victims of trafficking.

According to Hartini Zainudin, child rights activist and the co-founder of Yayasan Siti Sapura Husin, the Malaysian adoption process differs from Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah and Sarawak, and is dictated by an archaic pre-independence adoption law that has so far seen only one amendment and revision in 1995 and 2001.

“There is a fallout from not standardising and revisiting the adoption law,” Hartini, whose work centres around marginalised children, foundlings, refugees and stateless children, told FMT in a recent interview.

“These laws need to be evaluated and amended from time to time because the protection of children and the spirit of protecting all children in Malaysia is key. We’re not doing that.”

Hartini pointed to reported cases of missing children, or of those who are bought and sold, the latter being a hot-button issue recently raised by news organisation Al Jazeera in their November expose of Malaysian baby-selling rackets.

Some of these cases, she says, raise the question: Who are those adopting these children?

“There’s a huge concern about what happens to these children, a whole concern about who is adopting children. What are the criteria for prospective parents?” she asked.

The Malaysian adoption process is currently governed by two separate but concurrent acts – the Adoption Act 1952 is applicable only to non-Muslims, whereas the Registration of Adoptions Act 1952 takes Islamic law into account to make it possible for Muslims to legally adopt children.

This legislative difference, along with that of legal practices in Sabah and Sarawak, makes the adoption process unnecessarily convoluted. This is in part due to the fact that the process does not consider the reality of stateless and refugee children.

Hartini pointed out that under Malaysian law, foundlings and abandoned babies are rendered stateless, and are in turn – by virtue of a fatwa from the National Fatwa Council – treated as Muslim, which adds another wrinkle to the situation.

“(This is) not under legal law. Under the National Fatwa Council, all stateless children without any record on their status are considered Muslim,” Hartini stressed.

“A lot of people who want to adopt these children are already having a hard time doing so through the different criteria. That and the fact that there are many non-Muslim couples who want to adopt, but they can’t adopt these children. The long waiting list, the convoluted processes… people get tired.”

This prohibitively tangled adoption process, Hartini explained, has in turn led to issues of child trafficking, children being brought up in the sex industry, violations of children’s rights, and other social ills.

“There isn’t a proper way of protecting children who are up for adoption in this country. We don’t know where the children go. I don’t blame the women’s ministry, or the Department of Social Welfare, because their officers are overworked and there is not enough of them to go around. The system is simply lacking,” she said.

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