PETALING JAYA: Rights groups have expressed shock and anger over the handcuffing of a migrant child in Sabah after he was picked up by police for carrying a toy gun while begging from passers-by.
Vocal migrant rights group Tenaganita described the action as unacceptable, saying handcuffing of children is a gross violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Malaysia is a signatory to.
“How can we accept such an act from an authority? This is criminalisation of undocumented children,” Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das told FMT.
Yesterday, Lahad Datu police chief Nasri Mansor vowed action against his men after a picture of a young Palauh (sea gypsy) boy in handcuffs went viral.
The boy was picked up together with 14 women and children, all from the Palauh community.
Another photo of the boy shows him begging for money as he brandishes a toy gun.
Glorene said there is a need to understand the difficulties faced by the migrants, and reminded that many of them have formed the backbone of Sabah’s economy.
“We are aware that some of these families have lived in Sabah for generations, but the parents do not register their childrens’ births because of the fear of arrest and detention.
“For these children, Malaysia is the only home they know, so let’s envelope them into our society, legalise, and register them,” she said, adding that migrant children should be given formal education.
Echoing her, Sabah Human Rights Centre (Sabah HRC) co-founder Anne Baltazar said without access to education, migrant children could easily get involved in criminal activities.
“It is no surprise that this incident happened,” she told FMT.
Anne said many Palauh children are undocumented, and have been left to roam the streets to make a living.
“This would inherently make them susceptible to resort to illegal means solely to survive.”
She said the government should lift its reservations on Article 28(1)(a) of the CRC, which requires the state to provide compulsory and free primary education for all.
North-South Initiative director Adrian Pereira meanwhile said the plight of the street children was due to their circumstances.
“I hope society can find long-term solutions to help them get back to school, and look into the welfare of the families regardless of their immigration status.”