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Please Have A Heart, Education Ministry — 105 Organisations & Individuals

Why are schools asking for citizenship documents before admitting children for basic education?

A schoolgirl in Sarawak. Picture from the Sarawak government's official portal.

The recent incident of a nine-year-old girl in Sarawak being denied access to education because of her documentation status is heart-wrenching.

She is one of a large number of children in Malaysia, some born to Malaysian parents, who have been denied their basic right to education.

A conservative estimate suggests that more than 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.

Here is a summary of national policies that support education for all:

1. The National Education Policy (2017, page 22) states that primary education is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 12, 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, then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reiterated in a Teacher’s 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) 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 Ministry of Education (MOE), which goes against the Prime Minister’s promises?

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 7,600 kilometres away, but not fighting for children in our own county. It is long overdue that we fix the problems in 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 subsequent generations in poverty.

These children are not numbers or statistics, but real lives that have been damaged by our behaviour and response.

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

We appeal to the MOE to enforce our national policy and aspiration to provide quality education for 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. 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. 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, University of 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. Khatijah Sulaiman, President, Malaysian Council for Rehabilitation
  13. Bishop Danald Jute, Anglican Church
  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. Archbishop Dr Simon Poh, Catholic Church
  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 and Child Rights lawyer
  31. Hanizan Hussin, National Down Syndrome Society of Malaysia
  32. Helen LM Chin, Advocate and Solicitor
  33. Jeannie Low
  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, Society of the Blind in Malaysia (SBM), Johor Branch
  42. Assoc Prof Naziaty Mohd Yaacob, University of Malaya
  43. Ng Kui Choo
  44. Ng Lai Thin, 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 Bhd
  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
  83. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
  84. Pertubuhan Kebajikan Vivekananda Rembau
  85. Pertubuhan Rumah Kebajikan Kanak-Kanak Home of Peace
  86. Protect and Save the Children
  87. PUAKPayong
  88. Purplelily Social Association Kuching
  89. Reproductive Cadre on Sexuality Education and Queries
  90. Reproductive Health Association Kelantan (ReHAK)
  91. Sabah Women’s Action-Resorce 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
  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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