PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) has criticised the government for still imposing conditions on stateless children wanting to enter public schools.
Suhakam chief Razali Ismail said the position taken by the government is severe and detrimental to such children.
He was referring to the statement by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Jan 11 that only stateless children whose citizenship applications are pending will be allowed to enrol in government schools.
“The consequences of the position taken by the government are severe and detrimental to the fair and equitable development of all children, given that stateless, undocumented and/or refugee children will continue to be deprived of their right to access public education on an equal footing with other children.
“Suhakam has received and continues to receive many complaints from families of children who have been denied public education.”
He said it was unacceptable that a distinction was made on the basis of their citizenship status.
The issue made headlines earlier this month when many stateless children in Penang and elsewhere were barred from enrolling at schools, following a “circular” issued by the Immigration Department that stateless children needed to have passports.
Some parents were shown the “circular”, requiring children to have passports, by Education Department staff when they went to inquire about enrolling their children in school.
Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali later explained that the letter to the education ministry was a reply on questions from the ministry seeking to clarify some issues pertaining to documents required for three categories of children to enrol in government or government-assisted schools.
The department said it does not interfere in education policies.
“Suhakam underscores that the responsibility to educate any child cannot be linked to issues related to citizenship in today’s globalised world.
“Suhakam also wishes to recall Putrajaya’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ‘leaving no one behind’ with the aim to improve the quality of life for all,” Razali said.
He added that it was also in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Malaysia professes to respect.
The CRC states that all children, regardless of their citizenship, must have the right to access free and compulsory primary education, and the government must accordingly implement this right in such a way that the best interests of the child is of paramount consideration.
Suhakam called for Parliament to make the necessary legislative amendments to ensure that all children have a right to receive public education.
“In the meantime, remedial steps must be taken by the education ministry to rectify and streamline existing policies to enable immediate access to education for all children.
“Society must be ready to accept that all children have the right to a public education regardless of status.”