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LETTER | Separating migrant children from their parents inhumane

LETTER | Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) welcomes Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s statement that children detained at immigration depots will soon be removed from the facilities and placed in the care of organisations that specialise in child welfare.

However, the detaining of children with other adult strangers is not acceptable, as children should be detained with their family and parents (mother and father).

Rather than separating children from their families, as proposed by the minister, it is better to provide special detention facilities just for families with children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), in which Malaysia is a signatory, states in article 9(1) that “state parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will…” unless the court in judicial review determines that separation is in the best interest of the child.

Separating a young child from his or her mother or father is certainly not in the best interest of the child. A better solution is the provision of special detention facilities for families with children.

Removal after conviction and serving sentence?

At the moment, deporting those held at the immigration depot - including children - will take some time as they have broken the law. They must be first charged, serve their sentence if convicted, and then only be allowed to return home.

For example, a conviction under Section 6 of the Immigration Act 1959/63 for unlawfully being in Malaysia may result in a fine not exceeding RM10,000 or to five years’ jail, or both, and whipping of not more than six strokes.

With regards to removal from Malaysia, Section 32 of the Act states “… Any person who is convicted of an offence under Sections 5, 6, 8, or 9 shall be liable to be removed from Malaysia by order of the director-general…”. This, on the face of it, means that one can only be removed after being convicted and serving the sentence.

Would these children also be tried and sentenced, serve their sentence, and then only be returned to their country of origin?

The UNCRC says that “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years…”. However, in Malaysia, many of these “children” can also still be charged and tried.

Repatriation on application for certain classes

There is also in the Immigration Act the possibility of repatriation for certain classes on application to the director-general. Should undocumented migrants detained along with their children be made an additional class? It will allow these families to be repatriated fast without the preliminary requirement of first serving their sentence before withdrawal from Malaysia.

Sadly, we do not have the needed information of how many babies, young and older children are in the immigration depots in Malaysia. Were they arrested with their parents and other siblings? A single solution for all children, irrespective of their ages may not be best.

One must also look into why families and/or individuals are coming to Malaysia. Is this because of our porous borders, corruption, or because there are employers willing to employ the undocumented?

Whilst Malaysia seems to focus on the migrants, it may be time to target corruption and even review migrant employment policies.

Madpet is of the opinion that the best option is that family units with children should be housed together in special facilities, not with other adult undocumented migrants.

We also feel that it is best that these families be speedily repatriated rather than being first convicted and removed from Malaysia only after serving their sentences.

Madpet is also concerned that the minister said that children will be under the care of NGOs specialising in child welfare. Even if the children are to be cared for, it would be best for the government to do it within its own facilities.

Lastly, we reiterate the call for the abolition of whipping as punishment. The whipping of poor migrants who come to Malaysia to find jobs to survive is inhumane.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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