From Sabah, Stories from the East continues with a piece by Anne Baltazar about children who grow up without basic rights in our own backyard.
JUST WALK AROUND ANYWHERE, from the big city of Kota Kinabalu to the smaller towns of Donggongon, Sandakan, Tawau; basically anywhere in Sabah, and you’ll see children who don’t look like locals just loitering around, selling cigarettes or 4-digit numbers, working in markets and not being in school.
Who are these children?
I introduce to you, the stateless children of Sabah.
Where do these children come from?
They belong to the many Filipino and Indonesian migrants who come to Sabah in search of better jobs, better lives – a better future than what they have in their own countries. Some maybe came through the infamous Project IC.
Many of them find jobs in the plantations, construction sites and as domestic helpers in homes – menial work that Sabahans would never do even if it meant being jobless. And as they earn money to send back to their families in their home countries, many of them marry and have children. These children grow up not having any documents as they were not born in the country their parents were from. Nor will they get citizenship in Malaysia since neither one of their parents is Malaysian. They are stateless.
These children grow up not having any chance at formal education. They have no entitlements to health benefits. Even a simple visit to the doctor’s clinic is too expensive for them.
They have no rights. Nowhere to turn to for help.
They grow up in constant fear of the authorities coming to take them and their parents away for not having proper documents. When there are police raids, they run away and sleep in the forests or cemeteries.
To the local populace, they are like animals and are shunned and treated as such.
Malaysia enacted the Child Act 2001 [Act 611] to fulfill its obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Act 611′s preamble provides that every child is entitled to protection and assistance in all circumstances without regard to distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or physical, mental or emotional disabilities or any status.
The provisions of Act 611 are based on the four core principles of the CRC that is, non-discrimination, best interest of the child, the right to life, survival and development and respect for the views of the child.
Yet our country doesn’t do much to address this issue of the stateless children of Sabah.
According to Amnesty International in 2007, only 2% of the crimes in Malaysia are committed by foreign workers. Yet we’re all so fast to pin rising crime rates solely on them.
We blame and vilify them without basis, and yet we need them so much!
Who else will work in the plantations and constuction sites once they are gone?
Remember, many of these migrants who are employed are also underpaid and overworked. We mistreat them because they have no rights. Because we see them as different, many of us think it’s alright to treat them as less than human.
What we fail to realise is that their community is growing. Many of the womenfolk have 7-8 children by the age of 30. Without proper guidance and moral education, and with so much hatred from the public towards them, these children grow up angry, frustrated and rebellious, not caring what is right or wrong.
They are forced to constantly live in “survival mode” – steal to get money; fight to get food.
In closing our eyes to their plight, we must ask – What kind of future are we building for ourselves?
Their children are like our own children too.
What we should do is educate them, give them a chance at life, a chance at just being a child. To be able to play, to receive love and to always have food on their table and to be able to go to the hospital when they are sick.
Sabahans should wake up and stop discriminating. Remember that we must still live with them. Like it or not, they are here. And they won’t and can’t disappear overnight.
Wake up to the reality that there is no way to bring them all back to where their parents or ancestors came from. Their lives are here.
How would you feel if you were told to go back to where you grandfather came from when you know of only a life in Kota Kinabalu?
These migrants have the same basic human rights all human beings are born with.
See them as humans. They are no different from us in the things they want and need.
Treat them the way you want others to treat you.
Anne Baltazar is passionate about God and justice. She works for an NGO addressing issues of the youths, the marginalised and the needy. She strongly believes that political and social awareness among youths is important for the future of Sabah and that people should also recognise that migrants share the same HUMAN RIGHTS as all of us.