Groups urge China to lift travel ban on two Malaysians, stop rights violation

Voice of the Children chairman Sharmila Sekaran said China must revoke the travel ban on a Malaysian child aged eight as it is in his ‘best interests’. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Voice of the Children chairman Sharmila Sekaran said China must revoke the travel ban on a Malaysian child aged eight as it is in his ‘best interests’. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 — China should remove a travel ban on two Malaysians there instead of denying their rights to freely enter and exit the country, local advocacy groups said today.

Voice of the Children’s chairman Sharmila Sekaran noted that China is a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), highlighting the international human rights treaty’s Articles 3 and 10 which requires a child’s “best interests” to be considered and to be allowed free movement between countries to meet their family members abroad.

Commenting on the plight of Cheng Chau Yang and her eight-year-old son who are barred by Chinese authorities from leaving China, Sharmila pointed out that the UNCRC also touches on governments’ obligations to respect a child’s right to an identity in forms such as nationality, culture and family ties.

“This child first and foremost is a Malaysian national who has been denied the right to come back to Malaysia to absorb his Malaysian-ness, and discover himself as a Malaysian He is denied the right to eat Malaysian food and more importantly he is denied his right to his Malaysian family,” she said at a joint press conference with other advocacy groups and Cheng’s family.

The denial of the right to travel for Cheng’s child would also deny him the chance to experience other cultures, which is crucial for his growth and development, Sharmila said.

“So Voice of the Children along with all NGOs call upon the Chinese government to do what is right in the best interests of the child to allow the child the opportunity to travel, to not wait until he is 18 when it’s too late; to give him the opportunity now while his family is still in Malaysia, his great-grandmother is still alive, his grandparents are healthy and well to enjoy him and him to enjoy them.

“We call upon the government to do what is right, to lift and revoke the travel ban,” she added.

According to Cheng’s family, the travel ban on the duo is renewable every month for up to 10 years more, while the Chinese authorities had rejected previous attempts by Cheng to appeal the travel ban to visit her frail 94-year-old grandmother in Malaysia.

Tham Hui Ying, president of the Association of Women Lawyers, cited various international human rights standards on the right to travel, including the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

“All countries are party to the UDHR by virtue of membership in the UN, China in particular is a (UN) Human Rights Council member, so there really is no justification for a breach of such a fundamental human right,” she said, noting that the right to travel was virtually absolute and that the permitted restrictions such as the need to preserve national security, public order and public morals did not apply to Cheng’s case.

Sumitra Visvanathan, executive director of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), said the organisation had since 2014 been supporting Cheng who was in an “abusive marriage” and who had endured further “abuse” when the child was twice abducted by the ex-husband.

Citing the international principle of equality of men and women before the law under the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW), Sumitra said Cheng should be allowed to freely travel with the child.

Kuala Lumpur Bar chairman Goh Siu Lin noted that the travel ban is in place despite Cheng’s efforts to comply with the courts’ direction for the ex-husband to be given rights for weekly visits of the child.

“So what is puzzling is why the (ex-) husband’s voice in this case seems to be given greater weight than Cheng’s fundamental right to travel?” she asked.

The family had in a statement today said that the child was found after his second abduction that lasted 820 days with “terrible bleeding and patchy skin due to insufficient attention paid to his food allergy and eczema”, weak from a lack of exercise and brainwashed into thinking that his mother had abandoned him.

The then six-year-old child — who had prior to his two-year abduction by the father studied in an international school — was found to have lost his command of the English language and with his education neglected and “knew no children’s songs”.

“Fortunately now that he is under the care and love of his mother, he’s recovered very well, he’s been given extra educational classes as well as daily exercise classes so as to catch up the years he had lost,” Goh said when asked about the boy’s present condition.

“They are doing well but they are not able to travel. And they are always now concerned about their safety and their present residence is confidential,” she added.

Malay Mail Online had earlier today reported on the travel ban faced by Cheng and her son. Both of them have not breached any laws in China, and Cheng has won and retained custody rights over the child in every court case there.

Cheng’s family has launched an online petition to secure the right to freedom of movement for her and the child, and will also be releasing a short video that documents her plight on a Facebook page.

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