KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 29 — Born on August 31, 2002, twenty-year-old Muhammad Omar Mokhtar had not tasted “merdeka” (independence) since his citizenship was revoked by the National Registration Department (JPN) when he was 12 years old due to discrepancies detected in his said to be Sabahan mother’s identification card (IC).
Despite being classified as Malaysian in his birth certificate, Omar, who was taken care by his Malaysian father Mohd Roslan Saad, was adopted in 2014 under JPN’s advice due to uncertainties of his parent’s marriage certificate.
Following that, Omar was given a new birth certificate by the registration department in which the citizenship status has been changed to “non-citizen”.
Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) adviser Latheefa Koya, who is assisting Omar’s citizenship appeal, said that his adoption finally went through in 2015 after he was taken under the care of his aunt (birth father’s sister) Jamaliah Saad when he was 13 years old to ensure that he can enter secondary school.
She said that the bright Omar, who passed the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) with flying colours, was born in Hospital Kajang and said that the department has no right to revoke his citizenship despite discrepancies in his parent’s documents.
“At the age of 12 when he tried to make his IC (MyKid), just like anyone else would do, the NRD checked and they said the IC provided under the mother’s detail is suspect.
“Because of that, they interviewed his father. By that time, Omar’s parents already separated and his (birth) mother could not be traced.
“His father could not provide the NRD with a marriage certificate, so they insisted they must take away Omar’s citizenship. That is when the nightmare begins,” said Latheefa during a press conference at LFL headquarters.
She said JPN had advised Omar’s father to get him adopted under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution so that the latter can use the documents to pursue his studies while being labelled as “foreign student”.
Article 15A stated that the government may cause any person under the age of 21 years to be registered as a citizen in such special circumstances as it thinks fit. Such application must be made by the parent or guardian who is relative to the person to be registered.
Following that, Latheefa said that the Home Ministry had requested Omar to send additional documents in 2019 but had no response since then.
“He’s turning 21 next year, what’s going to happen next?” she said.
Also present during the press conference is Omar himself, accompanied by his father and his aunt, who is also his adopted mother. Omar said that the whole citizenship kerfuffle has been a major hurdle in most matters concerning his daily life.
Regardless of his impressive academic performance, Omar said he still struggles with even the most basic matters, from having his own bank account to obtaining a driving licence.
“I’m currently working as part-timer at a factory in Sungai Petani and I got the job at the company’s discretion because I don’t have an IC. I have problems of opening a bank account so my salary has to be paid in cash.
“I also have problems in obtaining a driving licence because I don’t have an IC so obviously, I can’t have one,” he said.
Coming from a family that is going through financial difficulties, Omar said that he does not have a head start like his friends in taking such a big exam like STPM and had to study alone with the thought of uncertainties lingering on his citizenship status.
Despite that, Omar persevered and scored a 4.0 CGPA for his STPM. He then hoped for his citizenship appeal approval to be expedited so that he can pursue his ambition to be a teacher.
Child rights activist Hartini Zainuddin described Omar as a person with wonderful qualities and have the potential to have bright future ahead of him.
“He’s special, he’s the one tutoring his friends. All of them got 3.0 and above in their STPM.
“Each one of them got into university but he was left behind. There is no reason for this to happen,” said Hartini.
Government is playing god on stateless children
Latheefa has urged the authorities to drop the “playing god” act when it comes to the poor children that are struggling with their citizenship status.
Compared to Omar’s case, which is a rather a clear cut issue, she said that many of the cases that involved migrant parents have yet to get a proper justice for their situation.
She said that out 20 cases of citizenship that she tried to settle, only one has succeeded in the past two years.
“They are not only not considering the cases, but it also gives the impression that you are playing god because you give whoever you like, and you do not consider the rest, and you do not give them a solution.
“What do you expect these stateless kids to do? Go back where? Which country?” she added.