Many children at day care centre stateless

A plank walk in pitiful state used by children from poor families to get to their house.

Tudan Methodist Church’s learning centre temporarily helps the children to learn basic reading and writing.

The children from poor families learn basic writing and reading skills at the centre.

A house belonging to a poor family whose children go to the learning centre.

MIRI: Among the nearly 100 children who are currently under the care of Tudan Methodist Church’s learning centre day care service, dozens of them are without nationality and birth certificate.

“Basically, they are stateless with no identity of their own,” said the pastor-in-charge, Reverend Nicholas Tan.

Most of these children are either from Penan families in the remote and interior part of Sarawak or offspring of mixed marriages between Malaysians and foreigners.

“In the case of Penan children, they were born at home in the remote village, the parents have absolutely no knowledge about the window of time for registration which is about two weeks, to register and process birth certificate.

“As a result, many of these children’s parents missed the window, they have no idea that it is important to have it done in time,” Tan said recently.

As for the children from mixed marriages, he said one of their parents might be Indonesian or a foreigner from another country and they probably got married in ‘kampong-style’ witnessed by the head of the village; without the proper registration of marriage to support the children’s existence.

What made the situation worse or more challenging, he added, was when the parents did not have proper documentation like MyKad which deprived the children of the opportunity to enter school at the right age.

“Before we took them in (to the learning centre), they used to linger in Tudan without any direction. So, we took them in, giving them the opportunity to learn basic reading and writing,” Tan said.

Rather than wait for help, the church took the initiative to assist them in applying for birth certificate and identification card (MyKad).

“The first challenge was to find the Tuai Rumah (head of the longhouse) or village head and the midwife as witnesses for the parents and the child.

“Usually in the village, the Tuai Rumah or village head is the one conducting the marriage of the couple. Thus, they are the key witnesses. The midwife is the one helping the mother give birth to the child; hence, she is the third key witness.”

Contacting them and having them gathered at the National Registration Department office was another challenge, said Tan, as it took them months even up to years to have these witnesses come to the office and give their statement and details of the birth of the child and the parents.

“We have no choice, but to keep contacting them as the case depends solely on their statement.”

Another challenge, he added, is to have the child and parents undergo deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test to prove that the child is biologically related to the parents.

“The cost for a parent-child test is RM1,500, which means to have both parents undergo the test, requires a total of RM3,000.”

So far, the church had successfully helped eight children to register and obtain birth certificate which enabled them to be enrolled in school.

“They may be over the age for Primary 1 but thankfully, we were able to help them with recommendation letter to the school,” Tan said.

Time, he stressed, is a great challenge.

“The long wait for the Registration Department to approve after submitting all the legit documents could be more than a year, not to mention the money needed to cover the DNA tests.

“We always raced against time. Thus, from time to time, we would try to seek help for sponsorship. When we failed, we had no choice but to appeal to use the church’s fund, which is also limited.”

As some of the children had already been with them for three years or more, Tan had another cause for worry.

“If any part of the process is delayed further, the future of the children is at stake. We do not want them to go around uneducated and we would appreciate any help that comes in,” he said.

For the children who successfully entered school, the church continues to help their family, such as by paying school fees, books and transportation.

“To ease the burden, we are currently applying for incentive from the Welfare Department to help us on the transportation fees for the poverty-stricken children. Their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school via bus resulting in them having to walk a long distance to school. We don’t have the heart to see them walking so far to school; hence we paid for their bus fare to save the children time and energy.”

Tan believes that only with education can these children change the fate of their family and build a better future for themselves.

Tan can be contacted at 019 8548175 for any information relating to the poverty-stricken children.

Those who wish to donate money can do so via their Public Bank account – Gereja Methodist Tudan Miri 2 (A/C: 318- 622-2701).