Photo for illustration purposes only. — Photo by Nick Youngson/Alpha Stock Images

THE recent incident, of a nine-year-old girl in Sarawak, who was denied access to education, because of her documentation status is heart wrenching. She is one of a large number of children in Malaysia who are denied their basic right to education, some born to Malaysian parents. A conservative estimate suggests that in excess of 300,000 children in Malaysia are currently denied education as a result of being stateless, refugees, asylum-seekers, or undocumented.

What is confusing is that this denial of access to education takes place in the face of national policies that support education for all children in Malaysia, regardless of their documentation status.

A summary of national policies that support education for all include:

1. The National Education Policy (2017, page 22) states that primary education is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 12 years, and this includes non-citizens.

2. The Zero Reject Policy launched in 2018 was aimed to ensure that all children in the country, including undocumented children, will have access to education.

3. In May 2021, our then Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, reiterated in a Teachers’ Day speech that the government pledges to ensure that no student in Malaysia will be denied a proper education, including undocumented children.

Hence, we need to ask why this is not effective on the ground? Why are schools asking for citizenship documents before admitting children for basic education? We no longer have a ‘Zero Reject Policy’ but a ‘Sure to Reject Policy’ if the child is undocumented. Why do the large number of stateless Malaysians (an oxymoron here) in Sabah and Sarawak continue to be denied the same rights as the rest of our children? Why are refugee children in detention denied even basic reading and writing skills?

Is this a problem of local ‘little Napoleons’ or a backtracking of policy by the Education Ministry? Even going against our Prime Minister’s promises? A recent detailed analysis, by Dr Tharani Loganathan and colleagues, of the failure to provide education to children from undocumented families in Malaysia is worth reading; it highlights all the issues and problems for the different undocumented communities including refugees and asylum-seekers, migrants, and stateless persons in Malaysia.

We would be appalled if the same standard we apply to these children was applied to our children when overseas. When many of us travel to study abroad, we are readily accepted into the education system of many other nations. But we do not offer the same to those who come to our nation.

We have Malaysians and the government actively fighting for Palestinian children 7,600km away but not fighting for children in our county. It is long overdue that we fix our own backyard.

Poverty is a lifetime trap that is very difficult to come out of and has devastating impacts on children and families. We all know that education is one vehicle that creates opportunities for children and families to come out of this ‘trap’.

Denying these children education is effectively imprisoning them, and their future children, in poverty. These children are not numbers or statistics but real lives that are damaged by our behaviour and response.

Note that while we have spoken here about education, the same right should also apply to health access for all children.

We appeal to the Education Ministry to enforce our national policy and aspiration to provide quality education to all children in Malaysia.

Any nation that does not provide food, shelter, education, and health to ALL children as a basic right, regardless of their documented status, is a failed nation.

1. Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Consultant Paediatrician

2. San Yuen Wah, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group

3. Anit Kaur Randhawa, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group

4. Datuk Dr Venugopal Balchand, President Medico Legal Society Malaysia

5. Prof Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, Children’s Commissioner

6. Dr Tharani Loganathan, Public Health Medicine Specialist, Universiti Malaya

7. Ahmad Daniel Sharani, Deputy President OKU Sentral

8. Alvin Teoh, Parent Disability Advocate

9. Angeline Yap Hui CHin

10. Azira Aziz

11. Bill Jugah, Independent Council of Natives (ICON) Sarawak

12. Datin Paduka Khatijah Sulaiman, President Malaysian Council for Rehabilitation

13. Datuk Danald Jute, Anglican Bishop of Sarawak and Brunei

14. Diana Carol

15. Dr Chong Vee Yee

16. Dr Irene Cheah, Consultant Paediatrician

17. Dr Lai Wan Teng

18. Dr Lim Tien Hong, PILAD Chairperson

19. Dr Ruziah Ghazali, PKOKM (Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Orang Kerdil Malaysia)

20. Dr Simon Poh, Roman Catholic Archbishop

21. Dr Tan Liok Ee, President BOLD for Special Needs

22. Dr Teo Sue Ann

23. Dr Tiun Ling Ta

24. Dr Wong Woan Yiing, President NECIC

25. Dr Zaireeni Azmi

26. Dr Chin Saw Sian

27. Dr Linda Lumayag

28. Dr Ong Eng-Joe, Consultant Pediatric Hemato-Oncologist, Kuching

29. Faith Jap

30. Goh Siu Lin, Family & Child Rights lawyer

31. Hanizan Hussin, National Down Syndrome Society of Malaysia

32. Helen LM Chin, Advocate and Solicitor

33. Jeannie Low Yen Leng

34. Karen Shepherd

35. Kasthuri Krishnan, Family and Child Rights Lawyer

36. Kaveinthran Palanthran, independent digital accessibility advocate

37. Kuan Aw, Harapan OKU

38. Mazidah Musa

39. Melanianne Yeoh Yin

40. Melissa Akhir, Kemban Kolektif

41. Muhamad Nadhir Abdul Nasir, Deputy Chair of the Society of the Blind in Malaysia (SBM) Johor Branch

42. Naziaty Mohd Yaacob, Associate Professor, Universiti Malaya

43. Ng Kui Choo

44. Ng Lai Thin, Project Officer, NECIC

45. Ong Puay Hoon

46. Peter John Jaban, Global Human Rights Federation

47. Raymond Tai, PT Foundation

48. Roland Edward, Be My Protector

49. Salina Hussein

50. Shariza Kamaruddin

51. Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri

52. Siti Waringin Ion

53. Syed Azmi

54. ANAK, Sabah

55. Asia Community Service

56. Boleh Space

57. Child Protection subcommittee, Malaysian Paediatric Association

58. Childline Foundation

59. Community Transformation Initiative Bhd (CTI)

60. CRIB Foundation

61. Family Frontiers

62. Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia ( FRHAM)

63. Global Shepherds Berhad

64. Kumpulan Wanita Orang Ulu National Association (KWOUNA)

65. Lawyers Kamek for Change (LK4C)

66. Majlis Kebajikan Kanak-kanak Malaysia (MKKM)

67. Malaysia High Functioning Autism Association

68. Malaysian CARE

69. Malaysian Paediatric Association

70. Malaysian Sign Language and Deaf Studies Association (MyBIM)

71. Mental Health Association of Sarawak

72. MTUC Sarawak

73. National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC)

74. New Horizons Society

75. NGOhub

76. Orang Ulu National Association (OUNA)

77. Persatuan CHILD Sabah

78. Persatuan Kanak-Kanak Istimewa Kajang, Selangor

79. Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (ROSE)

80. Persatuan Pendidikan Dwira Kuching

81. Persatuan Pengasuh Berdaftar Malaysia

82. Persatuan RURUM KELABIT SARAWAK

83. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor

84. Pertubuhan Kebajikan Vivekananda Rembau NS

85. Pertubuhan Rumah Kebajikan Kanak-kanak Home of Peace KL

86. Protect and Save the Children

87. PUAKPayong

88. Purplelily Social Association Kuching

89. Reproductive Cadre on Sexuality Education & Queries

90. Reproductive Health Association Kelantan (ReHAK)

91. Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group SAWO

92. Sarawak Bank Employees Union

93. Sarawak OKU Skills Development Association (SOSDA)

94. Sarawak Women for Women’s Society

95. Soroptimist International Club of Petaling Jaya SIPJ

96. SPICES (Support for Parents, Infants and Children through Early Services)

97. SPOT Community Project

98. Terabai Kenyalang Heritage Association of Sarawak

99. The Society for Urban Poor, Kuching

100. Toy Libraries Msia

101. Vanguards4Change

102. Wings Melaka

103. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)

104. World Vision Malaysia

105. Yayasan Chow Kit