AS expressed by Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah, Sarawak’s Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister recently, the decision by the Education Ministry to allow stateless children rights to education starting this year is a welcome move.
Previously, such children were only allowed into primary schools based on the kindness or discretion of headmasters but they were not allowed to continue to secondary education levels.
This new initiative by the Education Ministry will enable all such stateless children to have at least some level of education to enable them to become useful and productive when they are older.
The issue of stateless children has always been a sensitive one in many communities in Malaysia, and particularly so in Sarawak due to the multiethnic, multi-religious and multicultural aspects of society here.
The usual reasons for stateless children stem from parents not registering marriages or unwed mothers, or mothers or fathers of different nationalities having cross border-born children, and the list goes on.
The common theme for these stateless children is that they live in the state and reach school-going age while still waiting for their registration details to be sorted out by the various ministries and agencies involved.
Many were denied entry into schools due to lack of proper documents, and those who come from marginal families grew up without receiving any formal education.
Unfortunately, they grew up to become uneducated adults with no future, as they could not secure jobs and faced a bleak future in our society.
The right to education is a universal right and no child should be deprived of such due to circumstances beyond their control.
Mistakes of their parents or political, economic and religious reasons could have played a role in stateless children’s’ predicaments, and still, they deserve the right to education.
Societies cannot afford to have groups of people who are stateless, ignorant and sidelined whatever the reasons, as ultimately, these people have an impact on society.
Can any of these communities where stateless people are found to be forsaken, claim to be righteous, pious or considerate when their rights are completely ignored and set aside?
We are human, and there’s only one race on this planet, the human race. We must continue to be considerate to the less fortunate in our societies, especially those who through no fault of theirs – like stateless children – have to suffer because of the mistakes of others.
We should always practice the adage of “live and let live”, as we are all sharing this one planet, currently the only one we know of.
Sarawak Institute for Public Affairs