Posted by SM Maulana
KOTA KINABALU, July 7 − Faznil Mohd Deni is only 7 and yet he is already taking up his father’s trade as a cobbler.
While most of the children of his age are learning in classrooms, Faznil sits with his father on the five-foot way in Asia City here waiting for customers.
Like most working adults, Faznil’s day starts around 9am every day and the Father-and-son team usually wrap up business around 3pm.
When he returns home, Faznil would spend the evening playing with his siblings. He has four siblings and only one is going to school.
Despite being deprived of the joys of childhood, Faznil is better off than many of his counterparts who are roaming the streets in major towns in Sabah.
Faznil is one of many the stateless children, those born here to foreigners who don’t have any legal documents. They are neither Malaysian citizens nor citizens of the country where their parents originate.
Faznil’s father Mohd Deni lamented, “We do not have the money… I have 5 children ranging from 5 to 12 years old, and I am the sole breadwinner.
“But being a cobbler is better than getting into criminal activities like cheating or theft”.
In spite of the hardships, Mohd Deni, who migrated from the Philippines in the 1960s, is grateful to be in Sabah.
Mohd Deni is among the thousands of illegal immigrants in Sabah. Though he claims to have a MyKad and that his son Faznil has a birth certificate, he was unable to produce the documents when asked.
Illegal immigrants have been a long withstanding problem in Sabah. The locals have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the influx of foreigners and the social cost involving them.
It is also a contentious issue and finally last month it was announced that major operations to expel the illegal immigrants would begin.
Yet this gives rise to another question as where does this leave the stateless children, especially those who were abandoned by their parents.
Asked whether the government’s move to repatriate immigrants without proper documents would affect him, Mohd Deni seemed to be at a loss, and simply replied, “Susahlah.”
Other immigrants approached by Bernama at the city were less cooperative, fearing if their identities were exposed they may land into trouble with the authorities.
But mere observation at the immigrant hot spots in the city itself, such as those near the city market, one could tell that these stateless children in Sabah are deprived of the joys of childhood.
Most can be seen loitering or working from an early age.
Some are seen selling food items, some are working at the fish market and some are selling cigarettes.
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) vice-chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun said the people and the government must first grasp the fact that these children are within our society.
Only then the problem could be dealt with effectively.
“Whether we like it or not, these stateless children are already here… Nobody really knows and is ready to admit their real figure”, said Sipaun, who is also the head of Suhakam in Sabah.
“What the authorities should do first is try to unite the children with their families.
“If the families could not be located, they should be placed in centers that provide basic education and skills training and should not be left in streets,” he said.
Sipaun said ignoring these children is “a good recipe for disaster” because if they are not taught from early age, they may end up being a nuisance to the community when they grow up.
“These children are forced to survive one way or another, I personally feel sorry for them and we should do what we can to help them”.
“If you leave them just like that, if you treat them like criminals, then they will end up as one, but by then it will be too late,” he said. − Bernama