KOTA KINABALU: They are stateless, deprived of education, employment and healthcare and live in abject poverty in the east coast of Sabah.
But things are looking up for the nomadic Palau or Bajau Laut (sea gypsies) since their plight was highlighted by a non-governmental organisation involved in family planning and health.
Lim Hwei Mian, programme services head of the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations visited the Palau in Lahad Datu and described them as a “pitiful community”.
“I found that many of the girls become mothers at an average age of 15, and they have many children. They live, eat and even give birth on boats.
“They can’t go to school, work or get proper hospital treatment if they fall ill,” said Lim, adding that many of them did not even know their real ages.
She said there should not be such a situation in Malaysia, which aims to be a developed country by 2020.
“This is what we see in Third World countries. How is it that these people do not to have any documents or nationality?” she asked.
Lim urged the Government to issue birth certificates and identity cards to the Palau so that they would be able to go to school, receive healthcare and find jobs if they want to, just like other Malaysians.
“If nothing is done, the cycle of poverty and poor living conditions of these people will never end,” she said.
Lim commended several individuals, including nurses from Lahad Datu, for helping to educate Palau girls on sex, child birth and other related issues.
She added that there were also others who had been volunteering to teach the Palau children to read, write and count.
Most Palau men make a living by fishing but are at risk of being arrested by the authorities, while some of the young children become beggars.
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