Malaysia: Illiterate migrant kids a ‘time bomb’

Kota Kinabalu: The growing number of uneducated migrant children in Sabah, will pose a social time bomb situation in Malaysia if unsolved in the long term, possibly escalating crime rates as seen in West Malaysia by ‘Sabahans’ and social problems, as seen in some countries in Europe by migrant youths.

This was deliberated at seminar entitled ‘The Rights of Migrant Children’ organised by European Union Delegation to Malaysia with the participation of Unicef and Suhakam and European Union Delegation to Malaysia at Hyatt Regency, here, Wednesday.

European Union Ambassador and Head of Delegation to Malaysia, H. E. Luc Vandebon officiated the seminar by stating the fact that Malaysia is a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which states that all children have a right to education and acquire nationality at birth and no child should be discriminated by skin colour, ethnicity, religion or nationality.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Commissioner Nordin Kasim Madating said: “If migrant children are denied access to education, they will represent excellent recipe for social and civil disorder because a community of uneducated will be created. They would be a burden to society.”

Unicef Representative to Malaysia Wivina Belmonte stressed that Malaysia as a progressive nation is in a capable position without needing Unicef involvement if it chooses to do so and is thankful in its work with the Ministry of Education, “Equity means that all children have an opportunity to survive, develop and reach their full potential without discrimination, bias or favouritism.

“Whether the issue is legal status, poverty, or distance, the number of refugee and undocumented children in Sabah is rising. These children, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines face a childhood without a single day in school.

Others spend their childhood on the streets, as child labourers, and are exposed early to social ills like glue sniffing, drugs, petty crime, or child abuse.”

The exact number of migrant children in Sabah is unknown, but they are estimated to be in the thousands, mostly Filipinos and Indonesian descent.

Migrant children without the necessary documents are excluded from access to public education, social services and legal protection.

The issue as seen by Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi (PROHAM) head and former Suhakam Commissioner Tan Sri Simon Sipaun and his deputy Prof. Hamdan Adnan as a tickling social time bomb in Sabah, both spoke at the question and answer session at the seminar with others calling for a more reliable census count and educational opportunities for migrant children, not only as now concentrated on plantations in the East Coast but also in other parts.

Malaysia has not rectified the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol and is not obliged to give protection to those who come to its shores seeking political asylum.

Sipaun when asked if underprivileged local children like the Bajau Laut also deserve similar attention on education just as the migrant children got, said unreservedly, “Do you want them to grow up to be criminals or useful people, after all they are already here. I have for years in Suhakam pushed for better access to basic education for all children.”

Today, unlike before, the government has allowed and granted license to NGOs to operate private schools for migrant children born in Sabah mostly in plantation areas in the East Coast of Sabah with aid coming from various quarters like from the EU countries and some funded by plantation companies.

The project director of Humana Child Aid Society helping to educate migrant children in plantations, Torben Venning from Denmark, now based in Lahad Datu, said: “Education is the key to better social conditions in Sabah for the future. There is a great common responsibility to take up here, which needs more than just government intervention.

We have engaged in valuable partnerships with most of the major plantation groups in Sabah.

The Indonesian government is sending more than 100 teachers.”

“Many Indonesian pupils in plantation schools want to go back to Indonesia for their secondary education after they graduated. If left uneducated, they would likely to remain,” he said.

One of the problems faced by migrant children whose parents are not legally employed is access to public education/government schools.

Access to government schools for migrant children is only allowed to those who have valid documents issued by the Immigration Department with annual fee for primary education. This also includes children whose parents have permanent residence (PR) status.