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.

(source -

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?

Stateless, on the streets of Kota Kinabalu (source -

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.

33 replies on “The Stateless Children of Sabah (Stories from the East)”

  1. Hi Anne,

    It is good to be sympathetic to the needy and marginalized and to provide one with help where it is truly needed.

    However, in relation to ‘stateless’ children’ – rather than accusing the people of Sabah for “treating the migrants like animals”, perhaps you should be more concerned about this long standing issue: Scores of these so-called ‘migrants’ are ACTUALLY illegal comers, like you have stated in your blog, many of them have lived and worked WITHOUT proper documents in Sabah for many many years.

    And should the local people of Sabah be OBLIGED to look after foreigners and their families who have come to this country ILLEGALLY? Or, to be more exact, should the people of Sabah take responsibility for the well-being of the children of ILLEGAL foreigners who came here without proper documentation and without having gone through the proper means?

    Try and enter ANOTHER country illegally with your family/relatives and you are most likely to be arrested and prosecuted for ILLEGAL ENTRY, let alone trying to expect the local people in that country to take care of your children. If I were to bring my family, children and/or other relatives into New Zealand or America or any other countries with proper laws in place with the intention to work and settle down there WITHOUT proper documents or identification, the country’s authorities would arrest me and my family members and have us deported immediately. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

    Many of these foreigners don’t even qualify for ‘migrant’ status – perhaps the term 'illegal entrants' is more apt. If they want to live and work in Sabah, they are welcomed provided they do the proper thing, that is, apply for proper documents or work permits or PR or whatever, as any law-abiding or civil citizen would do if they wanted to live and work in a foreign country.

    Yes, these people hard up, they are poor, their children do not have proper schooling BUT by entering Sabah illegally doesn’t give them or their children or descendants automatic rights to settle down here, to have free access to facilities that are being financed by local tax payers. I believe we should only let LEGAL migrants (people who have PR status or proper documents or identification papers) to have access to education, healthcare benefits, and so on, as practiced in many countries.

    If I wanted to extend my help to these ‘stateless’ children, I would want to make sure that my generosity goes to people who are truly deserving of it ; in other words, I’d want to make sure that only people that are legally deserving to receive my help gets it, not children whose parents are illegal comers without proper documents, for I would be going against my own principles by assisting people who entered my country illegally, or worse, I might run the risk of encouraging more of these people to come and seek a living in Sabah illegally.

    On another note, the Philippine and Indonesian government should try and solve their internal problems and put more effort into taking care of their own people and not let their citizens enter Malaysia illegally.

    So Anne, I can tell that your intentions are good, and that as someone who professes to love God, you would want to see justice being served. However, please do not confuse justice with breaking the law, please do not confuse sympathy with providing help to people who are truly deserving of it.

  2. Hi Anne,

    I am a documentarian/filmmaker and found this story very interesting. I've always had interest in children and their future. I've recently completed a short on the street children in Zambia, Africa. I'll be heading to Sabah tomorrow for 2 weeks and would really like to talk to you while I am there. Will you please send me an email directly. You may also view my recent project on

    Thank you.

  3. Hi Anne,

    I am a documentarian/filmmaker and found this story very interesting. I've always had interest in children and their future. I've recently completed a short on the street children in Zambia, Africa. I'll be heading to Sabah tomorrow for 2 weeks and would really like to talk to you while I am there. Will you please send me an email directly. You may also view my recent project on

    Thank you.

  4. Hi Anne, I just read you story and been hearing a lot about this. Is there anyway that I can contact you to speak more on this topic. I am actually heading to Sabah tomorrow and will be there for 2 weeks. It'll be easier if I could email you personally and tell you about my project. Thank you.

  5. Hi Anne,

    I'm a Swiss anthropologist doing research in a field closely related to the reality you describe in your article. That is why I read it with great interest.

    Do you think I could ask you a couple of questions outside the framework of this "blawg"? It would help me a lot in my work.

    If you agree, please send me an email to yvanschulz(at)gmail(dot)com telling me how I can best reach you.

    Thank you very much!

  6. HI Justin,

    There is an Indonesian school in Alamesra which is funded by the Indonesian Embassy, its above the Jakel silk house who blasts music all day long. I don't know how the students study there. There are plans to move the school to KKIP, not so sure about this yet.

    There is no Philippines embassy here, this is because Philippines still claims Sabah as their own. Its a long story. A lot of selfishness from their part too, sacrificing the needs of their people.

  7. Hi Anne,

    Yes. I've seen the Youtube videos before. It's embarrassing.

    If I'm not mistaken, the Indonesians wanted to build a school in Sabah to school their Indon children. I think they bought a piece of land and would build the school out of their own pocket. I thought it was a good idea. But I heard their plans hit a wall. No news since then.

    and I was surprised to learn recently that the Philippines don't even have a consul here. Ramos was here recently and he said it would take time for that to materialize.

    Desperation makes a person do things they wouldn't normally do.

  8. I'm sorry to hear about that. I am keeping him in prayers. At the same time, I have known of many migrants abused and killed by their employers, but media does not put so much highlight on the migrants. You can check Tenaganita for resources on that.

    I agree with you. Blaming is useless. We should think of a solution instead. Security at the borders should be tighten, there's no point for migrants to come here undocumented and live a less then a bad life. Making sure migrants who come here are documented is a good start, the flow of migrants coming in to Sabah can be controlled and monitored, and documented migrants can have better lives than undocumented ones.

    I'd just like to share some clips by Al Jazeera….

  9. A Sabahan was shot dead today by a Bajau Filipino. He was an innocent bystander who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Let's pray for him and his wife and children.

    Anne, I'm sorry that you faced discrimination in your childhood. I empathize with you coz like you, I'm mixed blood too and was never accepted graciously by both sides of my blood lines.

    I agree with you that these Stateless Children should not be penalized for being born into this part of the world.

    And I also agree with David and others that its not fair to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Sabahan because we did not ask for this too.

    Let us all agree that the blame lies with powers that be. They put us (Sabahans & these Stateless children) in this hell and now they are impotent to resolve the problem.

    For our non Sabahan Malaysian friends, buy a copy of Dr Chong Eng Leong's book Lest We forget to get an insight to this problem. So far, the VVIP he has accused in the book has not dare to sue him.

  10. Hi Anne and everyone,

    I know you are a Sabahan and probably most of those reading it, including myself, are Sabahans as well. This is something we see everyday and like David said, we are the ones who have to deal with it.

    We all care very much about Sabah (Sayang Kinabalu is really more than a catchy song) but I think most Sabahans feel rather helpless and voiceless – only those select few like ourselves with internet access (which is in far down in the long list of must haves in Sabah after electricity, water, telephones, roads) can have a shot at having our voices heard in the vast ocean of cyberspace.

    Human rights are equal for all – how do we balance the rights of stateless children with the rights of locals? I do not have the answer but a transparent government (state and federal) which allows for *genuine debate across *all sections of society and which is *accountable to the electorate is a good place to start.

  11. "…When we treat people well we become better people…"



    But human frailties being such – we are more often than not retarded by hypocrisy, jealousy, stubborness, irresponsibility, laziness … a whole load of negative emotions :-( which i find very common amongst the most religious even sighhhhh…..

  12. Thanks for your feedback. =) This article is solely written on what I have experience being half-Filipino and have lived my whole life in Sabah. I face discrimination first hand, being called a "PILAK" since a very young age. I have also a lot of experience bringing locals to the squatter areas and what I have written about the treatment has been shared by the locals on how they treat migrants. But I do appreciate you being upfront and honest about how you feel and I thank and respect you for that.

  13. We need to be more humanistic in our approach. Nature has placed us to live on this planet without citizenship. Man created nations for economic purposes.

    In our approach to this issue we must not be blinded from this fact.

    There should be enough consensus among all Malaysians to register this people by not penalising them. Once registered the adults can seek employment gainfully. Make them contribute a small sum to a Trust Fund for the benefits they gain. Providing basic education and medical benefits will not be a burden to us. And we can utilise their talents to benefit the country as a whole. The Sabah State Government can implement and manage this without any need for Federal meddling. If only they have the Balls of Steel that is required to do this.

    That way we can ensure that at least they will be treated with the dignity they deserve. When we treat people well we become better people.

    It has been claimed there are 2 million of these people in Sabah. If we make them contribute RM100 ringgit per head that is RM200 million. per year. That is good enough to keep things going in the right direction. And of course those who earn higher income will be taxed as expatriates.

    I know some will say they cannot afford to pay, but hey if they can pay Rm450 -600 for a boat ride they can pay RM100 -200 per year. it is because we are looking at it from a very antagonistic political view instead of a economic view that this problem exists.

    Then there is the socio-political argument of will they be given citizenship? Why not if they deserve it? All of humanity are descendants of immigrants at one point of time……Nature has placed us to live on this planet without citizenship. Man created nations for economic purposes.

    *Some countries provide almost the same rights as a citizen to people born in the country, without actually giving them citizenship. An example is Indfødsret in Denmark, which provides that upon reaching age 18, non-citizen residents can decide to take a test to gain citizenship. Source Wikipedia .

  14. Hello,

    This post may be a bit different from the ones you have received so far.

    Firstly, I take offence that in your article you have placed the blame on the people of Sabah. We are governed by the same laws as West Malaysia, our problem here should also be your problem, but maybe out of sight also means out of mind for those who are too far away to care. The "authorities" you speak of are federal government agencies and not local Sabahan made up state departments, and they are mostly run by federally appointed individuals.

    By claiming that Sabahans are discriminate and that we shun and treat the refugees like animals, you are again placing blame on us for an issue that was not started or accepted by us. Despite what you think, if any other Malaysian national has been welcoming to these refugees, it would be the Sabahans. We live with them, we eat with them, we marry them and where allowed (by the federal government) we work with them. It's funny you say that the Sabahans are the discriminate ones, when it is the Sabahans who graciously live and mingle with the refugees everyday. My definition of discrimination would generally be someone who was passing through Sandakan, most likely to see the orang utans, catch a glimpse of the street children then go home and write an internet article on it defaming and vilifying an entire state of people because of the way they felt.

    I do however, agree with you. Some of the refugees are indeed poor souls, including the street children and in the years to come the people of Sabah will have a hard time. The years of neglect against the refugees will indeed come back to haunt us. Yet again though, I have no doubt Sabahans will be left to deal with this issue alone and people like you will tell us how terribly we are doing. However, if I employ one single refugee without the appropriate IMM13 pass, I will be subject to jail, caning and/or a RM10,000 fine per offence. So you tell me, how can I improve a quality of life for these poor people without negatively affecting my own life? Our hands are tied when it comes to the refugees. We are damned if we do, we are damned if we don't. Until the federal government and state government liase and come to a solid understanding of where the refugees and their children stand in the whole scheme of things, street children/refugees/illegals will continue to be a MALAYSIAN problem born solely and resolutely by the Sabahan people.

    I suggest if you are truly as passionate about this issue as you claim, you will research it and do something a little more helpful than write an obscure blog entry that will most likely be forgotten when you find your next 'deserving cause'.

  15. its so true… hmmm, are there any other ways to help besides treating them as how we treat ourselves?

  16. Good work Anne!

    If these stateless children are rich and beneficial to our country, mesti they will be welcomed with arms wide open! Hypocrites.

    We complained on the 2% crimes commited by them but failed to recognize the damages we put on them. Calling them names, esp the infamous 'pilak'. Paying them rm5 per day for 18 hours of working.

  17. Hero? :P wuahahhaa.. You helped me with my blurb! Thanksss!!! YOU are my hero! heehee..

    And even with the 2%, most of the crimes would only be the 'crime' of crossing our borders with no documents. Irene Fernandez posed the question whether this is a crime OR an administration issue.

  18. Anne is my hero! hahahahahha

    Great write-up – I think the important point you raised is 2% of the crimes in Malaysia are committed by foreign workers.

  19. Hi Ate Anne,

    I just had the pleasure of reading your article and believe me to God..I had goosebumps all over. Grim as it is, you can see this situation everywhere..You must have seen it yourself from your last visit here in the Philippines. They are locals alright..they may not be "stateless children" but they are homeless nevertheless.

    I strongly believe that no matter where a person came from, locals or migrants, they should be given the same rights as everyone else in that specific country.

    In this case, the parents of these "stateless children" you talk about in this article, should be given the equal treatment as the locals especially if they work long hours to provide for their family. Underpaid workers are everywhere. It's just sad that people take advantage of the fact that these people do not know what rights they have or they are just afraidto be deported or loose job if they fight for what they should have.

    I told you before and I want to tell you again. I admire your passion to help these children, your energy to go places and reach out to them and letting them know that they are not alone.

    May you always have that fire burning inside you to inspire more people helping people the way you do.

  20. Thanks Ryan =)

    Yeah..its a pitiful and endless situation, there are many cases like that, a few of them has come to us for legal advise. I really do hope there will be something good done for them. They deserve to have a real life.

  21. I know what you mean. I myself is a Sabahan. I pity those kids. Some of them could actually be Sabahan by lineage. I know of a local man who married an Indon. The wife is without document. They have children but the children do not have birth certs because the husband is afraid that the wife might get repatriated when the authority finds out that she is an overstayer, if they go and register their kids. They can't attend school. They are condemned to a live of poverty from young. But of course, our state and federal government say the problem is under control.

  22. Wow, Anne. Very moving article.. glad there are people like you to make the world a better place for those stateless children.

Comments are closed.