Hannah Yeoh: Home minister should reform Malaysia’s citizenship laws to help all stateless kids, not act case by case

Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh speaks during the launch of the C4 Centre Report in Petaling Jaya April 12, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh speaks during the launch of the C4 Centre Report in Petaling Jaya April 12, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin should amend Malaysia’s citizenship laws for the sake of all stateless children, instead of just looking at cases of one child at a time, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh said today.

Yeoh, who is also former women, family and community development deputy minister, was commenting on the interest Hamzah showed in response to a 22-year-old stateless Muslim person who was raised by her non-Muslim adoptive Malaysian Chinese mother.

In a brief Facebook post, Yeoh wrote of the crucial time for children who grow up stateless, and urged for a review of Malaysia’s citizenship policies.

“There are many many other cases with such sad circumstances. In all stateless/citizenship applications, every single child is innocent. The home minister needs to review the entire policy, amend laws and not look at the cases one by one because every month counts for these children — education, health care and safety!” she wrote at 10am today.

Stateless children in Malaysia are deprived of the same advantages and rights that children with Malaysian citizenship enjoy, such as cheaper healthcare and easier access to education. Citizenship applications in Malaysia have been reported to take up to years to process or for a reply to be given from the authorities.

This morning, Hamzah had in a Facebook post wrote that he felt touched about the story regarding the 22-year-old individual.

“I felt touched when informed of this matter last week and had ordered my officer to investigate the veracity of the information that was given first before making any decisions,” he said.

Along with Hamzah’s Facebook post, he had also included a link to local daily Harian Metro’s January 14 report regarding 22-year-old Rohana Abdullah, who was born to an Indonesian mother and a Malaysian father.

According to this report and a separate report by Harian Metro also on January 14, the 83-year-old Malaysian woman Chee Hoi Lan had adopted Rohana when she was two months old, when the child was left behind by the mother who had to return to Indonesia.

Chee was working as a kindergarten teacher at the same kindergarten where Rohana’s biological mother was working as a cleaner and where Rohana was left behind.

Chee had reportedly decided to raise Rohana like her own child, and had spent her own funds in sending her for Islamic religious classes and had also ensured that Rohana ate halal food or food permissible for Muslims and practised Muslim beliefs since young.

Chee said she was relieved that she had ensured that Rohana had remained as a Muslim, and said that her wish before dying is to see Rohana marry and having a career and being happy.

Rohana reportedly said she had to quit schooling as she did not have documents, and had at one time had severe anxiety and sought to take her own life but had then thought of her biological mother and adoptive mother if she were to have died.

Saying that she thought the world to be unfair as she had to bear the errors of her biological parents when she was not at fault, Rohana reportedly also said she only hoped to be given a status to live like others including to marry and open a bank account.

Rohana’s biological father had reportedly went missing while the Indonesian biological mother was said to have visited Malaysia several times while she was being raised by Chee, with Rohana also saying that she had applied for Malaysian citizenship since 2016 without receiving any response.

Rohana and Chee had met with the latter’s former student Gulam Muszaffar Ghulam Mustakim, who chaired the Batu Zone Residents Representative Council.

Gulam Muszaffar was reported saying that a discussion was held with the home ministry regarding Rohana’s citizenship matter and that he would send an official letter to Hamzah soon for further action.

Besides Hamzah, the National Registration Department (NRD) was also seen sharing the same Harian Metro news report on Facebook today, while the Home Ministry also reshared his post.

Under Malaysia’s existing citizenship laws which are frequently contested in court by stateless Malaysia-born children seeking to be recognised as Malaysians, children who are born locally to a Malaysian father and non-Malaysian mother — who were not legally married at the time of the child’s birth — face the risk of becoming stateless children.

While the Malaysian government has often cited the Federal Constitution’s provisions in saying that such children would take on their non-Malaysian biological mother’s nationality, many citizenship cases — especially those that reach the courts — involve children who have lived in Malaysia their whole lives.

In some cases as seen in news reports, they live in Malaysia with their Malaysian father and non-Malaysian mother who had later married legally, while other cases for example involve them being cared for by Malaysians while the non-Malaysian biological mother had become untraceable.

Other citizenship cases for example include children who were adopted by Malaysian couples and with their biological parents unknown, with such children having often also faced difficulties in the past due to the government requiring them to prove that they are truly stateless to ensure they had not taken on the biological mother’s citizenship.

These children who seek to be recognised as Malaysian citizens are stateless because they are not citizens of any country.

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