Malaysia’s Forgotten Children

Hartini Zainudin, a child rights activist in Malaysia, has witnessed many traumatic incidents in her work, but as she talks about the plight of Malaysia’s stateless children, she struggles to hold back her tears.

Hartini’s rescued her  on daughter, Zara, was rescued from traffickers when she was less than three months old. Following a lengthy adoption process, Hartini is now Zara’s legal parent, but attempts to secure citizenship for the six-year-old have been continuously rejected. With no official status, Zara can’t travel, attend government schools or use the public health system. Without documentation, she is also at risk of detention.

“It is every human being’s inherent right to be loved, to dream, to live – not just survive,” said Hartini. “Who are you … to say this child has no right to dream? Laws are man-made. Policies are man-made.”

There are an estimated 150,000 stateless children in Malaysia. Many are from remote communities in the peninsula’s interior or from Borneo. Others are the children of refugees and migrants and still more are ethnic Indians, whose battle to prove they are Malaysians can be traced back to Malaya’s independence from Britain in the late 1950s.

According to Eric Paulsen, an adviser to Lawyers for Liberty, the authorities “insist on documentary proof that is impossible for them to provide. They are often poor and illiterate. There’s only so much time and effort they can spend on this, so they give up and the statelessness carries on to the next generation.”

There are at least 10 million people around the world who are believed to be stateless, meaning that no country considers them a citizen.

According to UNICEF’s website, “Stateless children, through no fault of their own, inherit circumstances that limit their potential. They are born, live and, unless they can resolve their situation, die as almost invisible people.” Experts say statelessness leaves children vulnerable to discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN conventions relating to statelessness, but it has adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child,  which gives all children the right to a legal identity.

  • Pray for the Government of Malaysia, that it will act with compassion towards the stateless children living there and seek to implement ways to legally register all births, regardless of parent’s nationality, and to provide citizenship to those children who have been legally adopted by Malaysian citizens.
  • Pray for the children, that they will come to know their heavenly citizenship, as children of God.
  • Pray for the many millions of stateless people around the world, for protection and compassion, and for the spread of the Gospel amongst these vulnerable people.

Ephesians 2 vs 19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”


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