By BORNEOTODAY REPORTERS
KUCHING: A large number of Sarawak’s indigenous community, especially those living in the far-flung corners of the State and largely inaccessible due to lack of proper roads, remain ‘stateless’ as they are without the proper identification documents.
The distance to administration centres couple with the high travel costs are among the major setbacks causing many late registrations, but the lack of awareness on the importance of having identification documents is a daunting factor which concerned people in Sarawak are hoping to resolve.
There remain a huge number of more-isolated communities from Kapit to Ulu Baram where only a concerted effort by the National Registration Department (JPN) as well as the Sarawak ministries, must come up with a systematic procedure to ensure access to every community in Sarawak and solve the issue of statelessness once and for all.
A new Sarawak-based taskforce comprising a group of NGOs – SADIA (Sarawak Dayak Iban Association), S4S (Sarawak For Sarawakians) and SAS (Saya Anak Sarawak), are working with JPN as well as the ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development in an effort to resolve this long-standing issue.
“In addition to several issues raised, many in the rural regions are unaware of the process involved to apply (for such documents), especially in communities which are isolated from urban centres until relatively recently,” said Collin Siaw of S4S.
“Many communities were connected to the road network as late as the turn of the century, by which time their children were already past the registration date. Awareness is growing, of course. One of the group, a Malay from Kampung Gobil, approached me for help with his own identification issues even though all three of his children possess MyKads.
“However, there needs to be a sustained campaign of education and administrative responsiveness which brings the facilities of the JPN to the communities rather than expecting impoverished rural residents to seek out help themselves in the urban centres, something which their lack of education and road connection makes incredibly difficult.”
The number of successful applications for identification documents facilitated by these NGOs alone and processed by JPN through the new taskforce has long passed the 100 mark with an additional 23 more applicants brought to JPN recently, all facing a wide range of issues.
However, the number of applicants identified by the task force, despite its good start, is the tip of the iceberg, with efforts largely focused so far on communities with reasonable access to urban centres.
The bulk of the successful applications under these NGOs so far hailed from Mongkos, Tebedu, Serian and Balai Ringin.
The 23 applicants submitted to JPN on Tuesday (Jan 9, 2017) saw various issues about their application for identification documents and citizenship, ranging from those with no documents at all dating back to the early days of Malaysia, permanent residency and children of school age without birth certificates abandoned by their parents.
The group consisted a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Iban and Bidayuh from Balai Ringin, Serian, Muara Tebas, Bintulu and Selangau; this reflects the common denominator plaguing indigenous people who are born and raised in Sarawak, a vast state with many rivers and posing a major problem to Sarawak government in providing viable roads for transportation and a lack of education in the interior of the administrative requirements for registration.
Peter John Jaban, a globally-renowned human rights defender, has a more sinister view on the issue of statelessness and urges a more open-minded approach to the plight of the stateless.
“There are numerous cases in which innocent children are being punished for the perceived sins of their parents. The failure by a parent to properly carry out the registration process should not be visited on their children for the rest of their lives and from there onto their children’s children,” he said.
“There must be a way to alleviate the suffering of people who are stateless through no fault of their own. We have even seen cases of women forced into prostitution to make ends meet, who leave their infant children with their aged parents in longhouses and villages.
While most should feel compassion for these women, some might feel it is their right to judge the actions of the mother. However, it cannot be right to judge the child who has no choice in the matter. These children mostly end up without identification documents because the grandparents are either ignorant of their importance or deem it too financially troublesome for them.”
Dino Watson of SAS chipped in to say, “A new procedure must be devised to bring both education and the application process to the rural areas. This must be entirely systematic and based on merit. There should be no political or social bias.”
“There are even certain tuai rumah and penghulu who play favourites when asked by late-registration applicants to sign the forms; if the applicants are not seen as supporting these community leaders, who by the way are not elected democratically by the community but appointed by the government instead.”
Peter John added: “There should be no instances in which community issues can affect rightful identification applications, such as a contested sale by the penghulu or tuai rumah of communal lands which belong to the community to companies and GLCs without the knowledge of the community.”
Bill Jugah, SADIA’s frontman said they were made to understand and wholeheartedly appreciate that a committee panel has been setup by JPN, aside from the special task force to expedite the late registration process.
“We as NGOs are open to cooperating with JPN in providing assistance including providing information gathered from the grassroots. We urge other NGOs to put themselves forward. In this context, we also urge the panel to expedite pending cases of late registration.
“There are still cases aplenty throughout Sarawak especially along the border neighbouring with Kalimantan, creating a unique situation where the people staying along the border are in a state of limbo – neither are they Indonesians nor Malaysians. However, they have been living in Malaysia, as Malaysians, for their whole lives.
“Therefore, we urge the government of the day to come up with an applicable solution to address this issue since it is a matter of national interest and security. Surely their cases must take precedence over Pakistanis given MyKad despite being recently arrived in Malaysia and unable to converse even in simple Bahasa Malaysia.”
Bill said Malaysia is one of the signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women.
Despite maintaining reservations on several of the clauses, the Malaysian government has, by signing, openly declared that it believes in the upholding the human rights of its individual citizens and so it must live up to its ideals. This must include the Right to a Nationality and an education as well as Freedom of Religion, he pointed out.
Both Bill and Peter made a revelation which members of the public, including many JPN officers, are not aware of.
“Apparently, JPN officers automatically assign ISLAM as the religion of the bearer whenever they see BIN, BINTI or BTE in the applications. These acronyms, however, are not exclusive to a particular race or religion,” they charged.
“If it were, then why don’t the Arabs use BIN instead of ibni? Actually, their origins come from colonial times. BIN means Belong In Name when the child is a male born to a known father. BINTI means Belong In Name To Initial when the child born is a female.
“BTE means Belong To Eve when the father of the child is not known. This practice went on to the extent that it has lost its original purpose and meaning.
“In Sabah for example, a Kadazan Rungus may bear BINTI in her name but profess the Christian faith. The same goes for a Sarawakian Melanau.
“We hope this revelation will enlighten the masses and create awareness on the proper and original intended usage of BIN, BINTI and BTE. In addition, JPN must do their proper due diligence on the background of each applicant so that their religious status can be correctly reflected.”
The issue of statelessness has been compounded over many generations. In many cases, where a grandparent has been made stateless, the rest of the family suffer the same fate.
In addition, new cases are being created even in modern day by an inflexible attitude to the situation of the rural people of Sarawak and a lack of education in rural communities on the proper procedure.
This cannot be allowed to continue into another generation. The taskforce is in place – willing and able to affect huge positive change for thousands of rural applicants yet to be identified. They must be given the time and the resources to complete their work.
This issue has not been solved in the first fifty years of Malaysia. It cannot be allowed to drag on for another fifty. The time to settle it is now and JPN and the taskforce must go all the way.
Bill added that the NGOs has would like to expressed their thanks to JPN, the ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development and the staff under Joseph Entulu for a new phase of responsive to the issues of statelessness still facing the state of Sarawak.