Let foreign-born kids of Malaysian mums into schools pending citizenship reforms, Putrajaya told

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — The Education Ministry should assist in the enrolment of children born abroad to Malaysian women with foreign spouses even though the constitutional amendment to give them automatic citizenship was not yet ready, Family Frontiers said.

Noting that the legal reform would come to pass soon, it said the ministry and other relevant agencies should assist the affected mothers who must navigate a “lengthy and cumbersome admission process” that was unique to their gender.

In contrast, the children of Malaysian men with non-citizen spouses automatically become citizens here, and spared the bureaucratic gauntlet of state education departments, district education offices (PPD), schools, and the Immigration Department just to be enrolled.

The Immigration Department was involved because the children, as non-citizens, need a student visa to live with their mothers and families here; the same document was also required for them to enroll at a government school.

“Anxiety and stress levels for these mothers increase as the beginning of the new school year approaches. This is an ongoing struggle that they have to endure, on an almost yearly basis. They are sent from pillar to post to secure medical insurance, student visas, permission from the state education department and also school headmasters.

“It is not just an expensive process but the burden of the bureaucratic process is significantly tiresome as some of these mothers are single-handedly bringing up their children,” Family Frontiers told Malay Mail.

An affected Malaysian mother identified only as Esther told Malay Mail via Family Frontiers about her ordeal.

Noting that ordinary Malaysian children could enrol with just “a few clicks online”, she said her family was made to go to great lengths — both in time and distance — to attempt the same for their child.

“It took me almost five months to get all the paperwork done, with at least two trips out of the town and many trips to the school and the local PPD — and this is before starting with the immigration process! This is just too tiring,” she said.

According to Family Frontiers, affected mothers in its network also had to face additional uncertainty in trying to enrol their children, as state education departments nationwide were allegedly saying these children’s applications would only be processed once all Malaysian applicants were done.

“There are also no accurate timelines given for this. Consequently, these non-citizens could lose out on two weeks or even months' worth of education,” the group said.

Although the Education Ministry’s “Zero Rejection Policy” allows non-citizen children to enrol in public schools, the arduous process most affected those starting out in Standard One and Form One.

The delay was more problematic in these two years as it meant the non-citizen children would miss out on orientation programmes and be “forced to join their Malaysian classmates months after the start of the school year, causing unnecessary delays in their education.”

Lamenting that this was a long-standing issue, the group said it hoped this would be addressed quickly this year, ahead of the school year starting on March 19 and 20.

Family Frontiers said it had together with several civil society members met with the new Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek last December, following up with her in a letter highlighting the Malaysian mothers’ challenges and request for immediate action to help their non-citizen children who are enrolling in public schools.

“Education is a key and fundamental aspect of a child’s life and we hope that the Ministry of Education will see the urgency of this issue and we welcome any form of engagement from the Ministry to see this issue through. We are ready to work together to provide support and suggestions on immediate remedies to assist in this matter,” the group said.

While welcoming the Malaysian government’s decision last month to amend the Federal Constitution to enable Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children to automatically be Malaysians, Family Frontiers expressed hope that the Education Ministry could “provide immediate remedies” to such children in the meantime while waiting for the law reforms to take effect.

Family Frontiers listed three immediate steps the Education Ministry could take, including “streamlining the public-school enrolment process and reducing its length and complexity, such that the children can enrol in a timely manner”.

“The ministry must ensure consistency across all state education departments,” the group said.

The second step that was listed was to “implement policies and initiatives that provide these non-citizen children of Malaysians equal access to essential services and resources, such as free textbook loan schemes, government financial aid and dental check-ups”.

“Ensure that schools provide these children with equal opportunities to participate in all school activities, competitions and programmes, so that these children don't feel excluded,” the group concluded.

A seven-year-old child said I feel very embarrassed that I cannot enter Standard One together with my friends. — File picture by Devan Manuel
A seven-year-old child said I feel very embarrassed that I cannot enter Standard One together with my friends. — File picture by Devan Manuel

A seven-year-old child said I feel very embarrassed that I cannot enter Standard One together with my friends. — File picture by Devan Manuel

Being distinguished as non-citizens despite having Malaysian mothers can be hurtful for these young children who were born abroad and are treated differently even by their friends.

Family Frontiers conveyed some to Malay Mail, although the names have been withheld to protect their privacy.

In one example, a seven-year-old child said, “I feel very embarrassed that I cannot enter Standard One together with my friends. I wish that I am a Malaysian kid. That's all.”

A 10-year-old child who was affected also said via Family Frontiers: “I wish we didn't have to spend more money buying textbooks. After not being considered for three years, I don't feel like asking to be chosen for any interschool competitions anymore. It's embarrassing to ask.”

In the same set of quotes provided, a 12-year-old child said: “I got bullied by my friends when they were giving out Malaysian flags to the students at my school and my friends refused to give me one because they said I am not a Malaysian citizen.”

The 12-year-old child’s Malaysian mother See Ying commented: “To some it might seem petty to be upset over a flag, but it has a huge impact on the kids growing up.”

Another affected Malaysian mother, Bibie, also said via Family Frontiers: “I wish that the kids at my child’s school are not racist and calling him names ... and that the teachers would handle this issue instead of brushing it off!”

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said told Malay Mail recently that the Malaysian government should be able to table the proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution to enable automatic citizenship for Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children in Parliament in June.