Sarawak activist wants late birth registrations to continue

Sulok Tawie

Human rights activist Peter John Jaban said the Home Ministry’s move to restrict late birth registration to the NRD headquarters in Putrajaya was regressive. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUCHING, Sept 24 — Human rights activist Peter John Jaban appealed to Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin today not to stop the state National Registration Department from processing late applications for Birth Certificates in Sarawak.

He said the ministry’s move in response to the discovery of a syndicate selling MyKad and birth certificates to foreigners would exacerbate the issue of statelessness in Sarawak, especially for those residing in the remote areas.

“Not only has he cancelled the state taskforce dealing with the long-standing statelessness issues, now he has decided to funnel all applications for late registration of birth certificates through Putrajaya,” Jaban, the Solidariti Anak Sarawak (SAS) leader, said.

The state taskforce, chaired by Sarawak Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdulllah, was formed by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government to tackle issues relating Sarawakians without birth certificates and identity cards.

Most cases involve those residing in remote areas and whose parents had not registered their birth within the time period allowed under the National Registration Department’s rules or at all.

He said the Home Ministry’s move to restrict late birth registration to the NRD headquarters in Putrajaya was regressive.

“It is very easy to make procedural changes from the perspective of an air-conditioned office in the federal capital but clearly, he has not bothered to go down on the ground in Sarawak or even to take advice from the numerous NGOs or stakeholders helping stateless individuals in the Borneo state,” he said.

Jaban said it is unclear from the minister’s statement whether the latter actually expected the impoverished rural applicants from the Borneo state to travel personally to Putrajaya in order to belatedly register their children’s births.

“If state NRD offices are no longer to be trusted with these documents, then the only recourse is to expect citizens to travel to a centralized hub,” he said, adding that activists dealing with statelessness have long been raising issues of poor infrastructure preventing applicants from attending even state NRD offices.

“How can the applicants possibly be expected to travel even further?” he asked.

“Late registrations are a natural outcome of poor infrastructure and, frankly, a failure to provide adequate education, something which Muhyiddin himself should take some responsibility for as the long-standing former education minister in the former government,” Jaban said.

He said the home minister should send his officers to the remote areas and longhouses in Sarawak to register the birth of children and issue them with birth certificates, instead of asking the applicants to go all the way to Putrajaya.

In a statement two days ago, Muhyiddin said the Home Ministry has stopped late birth registrations at the state level with immediate effect.

He had said the registrations could be done at the department’s headquarters in Putrajaya, following the arrests of about 20 people including an NRD officer, in Penang early this month.

On September 12, six individuals of them including Penang NRD assistant director Mohd Faizul Arifin were slapped with a total of 32 charges for falsifying birth certificates and identity cards and selling the documents to China’s citizens.

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