ADUN SPEAKS | The latest resolution by the Home Ministry to end late birth registrations at respective state National Registration Department with immediate effect has been met with a mixture of support and criticism.
Although I laud the Home Ministry’s efforts in attempting to eradicate the issuance of false birth certificates and identity cards, I also call on the Home Minister to review this decision to determine if this move will add to the problem of statelessness rather than resolving it among the cases of abandoned children and among the people who live in the interior parts of Sarawak, mostly natives.
With regards to abandoned children, most of them only come to know of their stateless status when they reach 12 years old. This is when their carers try to apply for their identity cards and are told that the birth certificate of the child was falsified.
Under current procedures, the falsified birth certificates will be confiscated by NRD officers. An investigation will be carried out and only after its completion, the application for the registration of a birth certificate will be made at the state NRD.
If this birth certificate is considered as late registration, which it should be, the question is how the child concerned can fly out to Putrajaya without any personal documents to be registered?
Unlike the West Malaysians where every state is linked by road, a Sarawakian or Sabahan needs to fly to reach Putrajaya.
The same problem would be faced by those with a few generations of statelessness among their family members. These people usually stay in the interior parts of Sarawak.
Due to either ignorance or the lack of financial means to travel to the main towns in Sarawak to register a birth, a lot of these people had ended up undocumented. It is due to their immobility that currently there are State NRD mobile units which go into the interior of Sarawak to help in the late registration of birth.
It is foreseeable that the need to travel to Putrajaya to effect a late registration would deter even more people from having their late registration of birth done. On top of that, even if they have the means to fly, they are still unable to do so without any birth certificates or a Malaysian Identity card.
The decision to centralise the late registration of birth certificates would surely not work well for these classes of people living in Sarawak as, unlike their West Malaysian brethren. The decision might, therefore, bring more distress and burden than benefits.
Furthermore, so that this mechanism may serve its purpose - to enhance security - the Home Ministry should consider if the NRD headquarters in Putrajaya is equipped to handle such a large amount of late registrations of births.
To lump all the states’ registration at Putrajaya will surely mean unnecessary and substantial delays, especially when it comes to abandoned children.
For abandoned children in Sarawak, it generally takes between six months and one year for the birth certificate to be issued when it comes to late birth registration. The time is inclusive of the investigation conducted by the state NRD's investigation division.
If the jurisdiction and authority now fall under NRD Putrajaya, is there any guarantee that the issuance of birth certificates can be done within the shortest period?
This is crucial as a birth certificate is required for the adoption process for these children, and valid adoption in Sarawak is limited to a maximum of age 18 and not 21 years in Peninsular Malaysia. Only after the adoption is completed can the adoptive parents of the child make a citizenship application on behalf of the child.
The proposal to incorporate the DNA information of a child into his or her birth certificate is good in terms of security issue. However, my concern is that the cost of one DNA test is between RM1,500 and RM3,000. Not everyone can afford the costs and expenses associated with DNA testing.
Furthermore, the current procedure is that one NRD officer must be present to witness the blood test and to handle the necessary paperwork. Is the NRD sufficiently equipped in terms of manpower to handle these cases? The proposal for DNA information to be incorporated is good provided the issues of costs and manpower are resolved so as not to bring more burden than benefits to the parties involved.
Our country has been suffering from the social issue of citizenship and falsification of identification documents for many years. Brokers and syndicates are always on the look-out for a chance to take advantage of loopholes in legislation to prey on vulnerable victims.
Therefore, it is timely that the Home Ministry is making real efforts to eradicate this social problem. However, to be able to resolve this issue, the root cause must be adequately addressed and is different from one state to another.
The Home Ministry should work together with the respective state government and consider making the process for the application and acquisition of citizenship easier for those who truly deserve it. Especially for abandoned children who were born in the country and have been legally adopted by Malaysian parents.
Instead of only fighting the symptoms of this social ill, I urge the Home Ministry to also address the root cause so that people will not deem it necessary to engage brokers or go through the backdoor, just to obtain the necessary documentation to enable them or their children to reside as citizens in Malaysia.
IRENE MARY CHANG OI LING is the assemblyperson for Bukit Assek in Sarawak.
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