Unicef: Malaysia must go beyond discretionary citizenship approvals for stateless children

Unicef’s Marianne Clark-Hattingh said government policies have to change for the sake of these children. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Unicef’s Marianne Clark-Hattingh said government policies have to change for the sake of these children. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14 — The Malaysian government should not just grant citizenship to stateless children based on discretion, but should facilitate the acquisition of citizenship through clear, streamlined and timely procedures, a United Nations body’s representative said.

Marianne Clark-Hattingh, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative in Malaysia, today welcomed Putrajaya’s decision to grant citizenship to three stateless children born in Malaysia.

But she noted that it was a “discretionary decision based on Article 15A” of the Federal Constitution.

Article 15A provides for the “special powers” of the federal government to register anyone aged below 21 years’ old as a citizen in “such special circumstances as it thinks fit”.

Lawyers who spoke to Malay Mail have pointed out the arbitrary nature of Article 15A citizenship applications where it is up to the home minister to decide on an ad hoc or case by case basis.

The uncertainty in applying for citizenship via Article 15A is heightened when applications can be rejected without any reasons given, and with rejection letters sometimes known to have taken more than a year to be issued, all while the children grow closer to the deadline of age 21.

Clark-Hattingh today pointed out there were many other children who are denied crucial services due to their status as being stateless.

“We need to remember the countless other stateless children who are still deprived of education, healthcare, and other social services.

“Their lives are in limbo for lack of proper documentation and should not rely on costly, protracted legal processes, and discretionary decisions to put their life on track,” she said.

In Malaysia, children born here become stateless or without any nationality due to various circumstances.

Among other things, the government has been known to refuse citizenship to those with unknown birth parents despite having been legally adopted by Malaysian parents, or because some of them were born out of wedlock to a Malaysian father and non-Malaysian mother.

But Clark-Hattingh said the stateless children are not to blame for their status, adding that “no child should be punished for the failings of their parents”.

“All children are born equal with the same rights, and expectation of a bright future,” she said.

She said government policies have to change for the sake of these children.

“For every one of these children, the policy must be amended in compliance with SDG16.9 and Malaysia’s reservation on CRC Article 7 must be lifted,” she said.

She was referring to the target indicator 16.9 under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SGD), with the aim being to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by the year 2030.

She was also referring to the international treaty of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Malaysia had acceded to and accepted on February 17, 1995.

But Malaysia does not fully follow all provisions under the CRC.

Malaysia had on July 19, 2010 declared that it is expressing reservations on five provisions including Article 7, saying that these would only apply to Malaysia if they are in line with the Federal Constitution, national laws and the Malaysian government’s national policies.

Among other things, Article 7 of the CRC states that a child “shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents”.

Article 7 also provides that countries who have agreed to the CRC shall ensure they implement these rights in line with their own laws and international obligations, especially if failure to do so would make the child stateless.

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