‘I want to know why I was given away for adoption’: 70-year-old looks for birth family


Kartini Ahamat (centre), with daughters Nur Jinani Juhmahat (left), 47, and Nur Juherni Jumahat, 52. - ST

SINGAPORE: At the age of 70, Kartini Ahamat’s most fervent wish is to see her biological family at least once while she is still alive.

Born to a Chinese couple and named Chan Seow Eng at birth, she was adopted by a Malay family as a baby.

Kartini found out about her parentage only at the age of 23, when a relative let her in on the truth at her adoptive father’s funeral. The revelation hit her like a bolt from the blue, as she had no inkling she was adopted.

The housewife said in Malay: “I felt very sad to find out I was adopted. I cried.

“I didn’t suspect anything as my adoptive father loved me very much. I also really loved him.”

When she was young, shopkeepers would ask if she is Chinese, she said.

She told them she is Malay, adding that her adoptive mother – whom she thought was her birth mother then – is more fair-skinned.

Kartini was adopted by Ahamat Ibrahim, a ship master, and his wife Zainab, shortly after she was born in 1953. The Ahamats lived in Minto Road, which is off Jalan Sultan, at that time.

Zainab died of a heart attack when Kartini was still a toddler, and Ahamat married Zainab’s sister, Rokiyah. The family later also adopted a pair of biological sisters.

After learning that she was adopted, Kartini asked Rokiyah about her birth parents.

Rokiyah told her that her biological parents sold bean curd and they lived in the Little India area.

Apart from hearing from a relative that she has at least one older biological sister, Kartini could not find any other information about her birth parents.

Over the years, her two adoptive sisters reunited with their birth family.

Using the names of their biological parents from their birth certificates, her adoptive sisters found their biological father through the Yellow Pages phone directory.

But Kartini’s birth certificate lists Ahamat and Rokiyah as her parents.

After Rokiyah died more than 10 years ago and her adoptive sisters’ reunion with their biological family, Kartini’s wish to find her own birth family grew stronger.

She said: “I want to know if my biological parents are still alive, and I want to see my biological sister.

“I want to know why I was given away for adoption.”

A widow, Kartini has two daughters and one granddaughter.

Her elder daughter, 52-year-old housewife Nur Juherni Jumahat, has helped her look for her birth family without any luck so far.

“I feel sad as mum has always said she feels like she’s all alone in the world,” Juherni said. “She has always said that before she dies, she wants to see them.”

They had a breakthrough in 2023 when the family approached their MP for help. The MP suggested that they try asking the Family Justice Courts for Kartini’s adoption records.

In January, they found out the name of Kartini’s birth father: Chan Kim Guan. In the adoption records, Chan is also spelt as Choon.

Her birth mother is Ang Siang Lang. The couple lived in Cheang Gim Chuan Place at the time of the adoption.

Juherni went to that address, but it is now an empty shop near Prinsep Street.

She contacted The SundayTimes after reading the story of two childhood best friends who later learnt that they are biological sisters. The two sisters, who were born to a Chinese couple, were adopted separately by a Malay couple and an Indian couple.

Their story was featured in a book about interracial adoptions in pre-independent Singapore, which was published in December 2023.

Kartini said she has friends like herself, who were born into Chinese families and adopted by Malay parents. Her friends have since found their birth families.

She said of a prayer that is deep in her heart: “I pray that if it’s good for me, please let me meet my birth parents.”

If you have any information regarding Kartini’s biological family, please contact Juherni at chooharnee@yahoo.com - The Straits Times/ANN

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