Thursday, August 22

Plight of poor birth cert applicants



AN expensive DNA test to determine their future hung like a millstone round the necks of a young boy and his mother from Kuala Baram.

Jerry Medin, 11, and his 35-year-old mother, Serra Rendi, do not have birth certificates and, to apply for one, they had to take the DNA test but the cost was too high.

Jerry’s father Medin Achong, 37, however, has a birth certificate issued by the National Registration Department (JPN). Jerry’s nine-year-old sibling, Dirly, also has one.

The family comes from Rumah Panting (previously Rumah Dok) in Sungai Teniku, Kuala Baram.

On June 27, things took a turn for the better when Jerry and his mother were presented with an RM1,500 cheque to pay for the DNA test.

The donation came from St Columba’s Anglican Church in Miri, with the help of Jerry’s teacher Jessica Paul Baki.

Before this, the future looked really bleak for Jerry, a Primary 5 pupil of SK Pujut Corner. Categorised as non-Malaysian, he could not get any schooling aid and his father was forced to pay a levy.

Jerry will not be able to sit for his Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah next year if he does not get his birth certificate in time. JPN’s verdict on the application – following the DNA test – will only be known within the next two months. His parents are hoping things will work out.

Medin and Dirly both have identification documents.

A struggle

Medin, a daily-paid construction worker, earns hardly enough to put food on the table, having to pay rent and monthly bus fares for his two sons schooling in Miri.

He has been trying to get Jerry, his eldest, registered since January 2015, checking on the application status every month but was always told “it’s being processed”.

“I even called JPN headquarters in Kuching but the reply was always the same,” he told thesundaypost.

Medin said he applied for his traditional marriage certificate (surat tikah) after Jerry was born in the longhouse on Sept 3, 1997.

But the certificate was issued after two years, causing him many headaches as it meant he could only apply for his son’s registration much later after birth.

The couple did not have any problems registering the birth of their second son (Dirly), who was even issued a MyKid.

In July 2016, Medin received a letter from JPN, informing him that his son and wife’s birth cert applications could not proceed. The department suggested they went for a DNA test – on their own expense.

Although Medin could not afford to pay for the test, he remained undeterred, following up with the JPN mobile registration exercise team at his longhouse in Sungai Teniku in 2017, and was told to appeal.

Tuai Rumah Panting Dok also confirmed Jerry and Serra’s identities in a referral letter this year.

On June 22 this year, Medin finally received a letter from JPN, asking his son and wife to go for the DNA test two days later (June 24) at Miri Hospital, but they had to bear the cost themselves.

Jerry shows the donation from St Columba’s Church. With him are Serra (fourth right), Jessica (right), and family members.

Stunned and helpless

“I was stunned and didn’t know what to do as I was earning hardly enough to get by,” Medin said.

He shared his predicament with Jessica, who, in turn, informed St Columba’s Anglican Church.

The family had earlier also sought help from politicians from both sides of the political divide, but it was St Columba’s Urban Ministry Emmanuel Unit (UMEU), which came to the rescue, raising RM1,500 internally for the DNA test three days later on June 27.

It was the best Teachers’ Day gift for Jessica, who turned teary when UMEU’s Charles Soo called to inform her that funds for the DNA test had been raised. The good news came as a huge relief to the family. The millstone had been axed.

Accompanied by JPN officers, Jerry and his mother gave their blood samples at Miri Hospital and prepared for the DNA test conducted by the lab in Bintulu.

JPN’s decision on the birth certificates – following the test – will only be known within the next two months but Medin is optimistic.

“I’m looking forward to both my son and wife being accorded Malaysian citizen status,” he said.

However, that’s not the way the story ends. There are more millstones to remove.

Medin’s wife isn’t the only one in the family without a birth certificate as his five in-laws are in the same boat.

Serra told thesundaypost that her mother, eldest and second sisters, and two young nephews do not have birth certificates and were yet to apply.

If the standard rule of DNA testing were applied, the costs would be beyond them unless the Pakatan Harapan federal government changes the rule to make it more applicant-friendly, while still safeguarding national security.

Serra’s second sister’s two sons were born in workers’ quarters and are now aged six years and less a month. The lack of identification papers has and will continue to haunt them.

Soo hoped the new government would step in to help poor birth certificate applicants as the DNA test and other charges were way too expensive for them.

“Our church is trying to help Jerry and his mother in our own little way but it has limitations. Hopefully, the public can chip in.”

He also pointed out that in the case of Medin’s family, there were seven members, including Jerry and his mother, without birth certificates.

For Jerry and his mother, their DNA test had at least been paid for and they are now waiting for the outcome of their birth certificate application.

But for their five relatives, the situation is quite different. Applying for a birth certificate on their own or with Medin’s help would be extremely difficult since the costs involved are prohibitive to them.

JPN officers help Jerry and Serra with the DNA test procedures.

In a catch 22 scenario, the poor are staring at despair, having to scientifically prove the eligibility to be issued birth certificates not only for themselves but also their children and even grandchildren due to various reasons – geographical, economic or plain ignorance.

Soo reiterated there must be political will to make the citizenship screening system more applicant-friendly, especially for deserving cases, adding that hopefully, in a post-GE14 ‘New Malaysia’, needy families would be given help in this respect.

Invariably, it has to go beyond the JPN mobile registration exercise towards a more holistic, cost-effective and humane approach – of course without compromising on efforts to keep aliens out of the state.