Stateless sisters are in school, thanks to RYTHM Foundation-DHRRA Malaysia initiative
Sarah, 13 and Melinda, 12, (not their real names) are born to a Malaysian father and an Indonesian mother, whose marriage was not legally registered. Their mother returned to Indonesia many years ago, leaving the children with their father and is now untraceable. Because of this, the siblings do not have a birth certificate and are not able to apply for citizenship in Malaysia, thus making them effectively stateless.
Fate further dealt them a cruel blow when their father died of a heart attack in July 2020.
The girls are currently being taken care of by their aunt Sharmila, 47.
“The mother left the children when they were very young, under the care of their father and grandparents. Their father was the strongest guide and support for the girls, but now, he is gone,” she said.
She said the girls’ father had applied for citizenship for them in 2012 but the application was rejected four years later. No reason was given for the rejection.
“He re-applied in 2016 and we are still waiting for the results,” she said.
“I approached the DHRRA late last year to check if they could help with my nieces’ situation. With the recent change of law, the government has allowed stateless children to attend school, but they are required to pay for everything. The school fees are priced double for them as compared to students who are Malaysian citizens and they also have to pay for their textbooks which are otherwise free,” said Sharmila who is a housewife.
DHRRA or Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas, is a Malaysian non-governmental organisation which has been tirelessly working to address statelessness in the country since 2007. RYTHM Foundation collaborates with DHRRA to enroll stateless and undocumented children in school and supports them with financial aid to help them stay in school.
With the support of the fund established by RYTHM Foundation, DHRAA was able to help pay for Sarah and Melinda’s schooling relieving their aunt of the financial burden, given her own financial constraints.
Sharmila says Sarah dreams of being a teacher and is very hardworking and studious. Despite losing her father just a few months before the national examinations, she managed to do well and scored 6 As in the examination.
The purpose of the support from RF and DHRRA is not just to provide financial aid but also to reduce the dropout rate of stateless children from school.