Stateless children have dreams, too

Sending out applications for university can be an ordeal. Many students, even those with the best of grades, worry over whether their results will be good enough. Others go over bank accounts in their heads, hoping they will have enough to see them through. For some, scholarships are their only hope. Students who apply to universities far from home wonder what life will be without their families.

But for 20-year-old Roisah Abdullah, none of these was a concern. While her classmates celebrated their STPM results and mapped out bright plans for the future, she was left only with uncertainty and worry.

Even finding a job and earning a living was not an option for the girl who had scored top grades in her STPM examinations. As a stateless person, her future was nothing like the rest of her friends’.

According to Roisah’s birth certificate, her mother was a foreign woman who gave birth to her at a clinic in Klang. There are no details of her Malaysian father.

Roisah was adopted at a young age and raised in Malaysia. Her adoptive family said she showed great promise as a student. She scored straight As in her PMR examinations, 7As and 1B in SPM, and 3As, 1B in STPM. She said she considered herself lucky to have been allowed to sit for the exams after sending in many requests.

However, Roisah was not able to replicate this success with her application for citizenship. Her many requests to the National Registration Department (NRD) were rejected, the latest being in March 2013. The authorities took five years to respond, and only informed her that she had been denied citizenship on Jan 16.

Padang Serai MP N Surendran took up her case and held a press conference to highlight Roisah’s plight. But how many others like her are there in Malaysia, who have slipped through the net and been penalised through no fault of their own?

Surendran brought up the example of a similar case involving eight-year-old Karthiyani Ragunathan, who was born to Malaysian parents.

Unlike her 10 other siblings, Karthiyani was born at home. The authorities said they did not know where she had come from as her mother had not delivered her in a hospital. They refused to acknowledge a letter from Hospital Kuala Lumpur confirming that she had been born at home.

Like Roisah, Karthiyani’s application for citizenship was rejected.

Incidentally, many of our mothers and grandmothers, especially those who are now in their 70s and 80s, were born at home with the help of village midwives. They, however, were not refused citizenship.

Yet another child in similar circumstances is seven-year-old Li Ai Ling, whom Surendran said had an Indonesian mother and Malaysian father. She was born at a clinic in Klang but her application for citizenship was rejected because her parents’ marriage was not properly registered. Her mother has since returned to Indonesia.

Why are the authorities dragging their feet in resolving the citizenship issues of these three girls? How many more are out there?

Roisah dreams of being an accountant or an economist. Li and Karthiyani just want to be like their friends who all attend school. But all three have been denied a future despite being born on Malaysian soil and having at least one Malaysian parent.

Under the Federal Constitution, these three should have been granted citizenship automatically.

Why does the home ministry appear so indifferent about resolving their cases?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.