Malaysian Authority Denies Right To Identity

Adela Jalil* was ecstatic when she gave birth to a baby girl in August.

But her joy gave way to pain, disbelief and then anger when her husband Malik* went to register their newborn at the National Registration Department (NRD) in Johor.

The NRD refused to put her husband's name down as the father of their child in the birth certificate.

The baby came early and was born less than six months from the date of their nikah, so the NRD assumed that she was conceived out of wedlock and would not allow the biological father's name on the birth certificate. They put a "binti Abdullah" instead. In the column for the father's name on the birth certificate, the NRD simply wrote tiada maklumat (no information) even though Malik was there to register the birth.

"My heart is breaking for my child. We are married. I gave birth to the child, the father is known and he acknowledges the baby is his child and wants her to have his name. But with one stroke of the pen, the NRD has denied my child all her rights," says Adela. These include the child's rights to inherit from her father, to have him as a wali for her wedding in future, and the right to his name, among other things.

To register the birth of a child, parents these days must produce their surat nikah (marriage certificate) as proof of their marriage. And recently, NRD has taken to calculating the number of months from the date of the nikah to the birth of the child. If it's anything short of six months, they do not allow the father's name on it in keeping with a fatwa ruling by the National Fatwa Council.

"I want to know if NRD now comes under Jakim? A fatwa is a policy; it is not law," says Adela, who believes that NRD is contravening Section 13 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act by refusing the biological father's name on the birth certificate.

"We are her parents and we want her to have our name. What are they trying to prove with naming and shaming the child? That the child is illegitimate? At whose expense? It's cruel to the child. It will be traumatic and totally disrupt her life.

"From the time she is born, she has to bear the brunt of the government labelling her as some pariah of society. It will affect her emotional well being and self-esteem. She's going to be a laughing stock in school and the butt of jokes. If they want to punish anyone, it should be us the parents but why victimise the child?" she says, adding that causing emotional injury to a child clearly goes against the Child Protection Act.

Adela is one of the Malaysian professionals overseas who heeded the government's call to return to contribute to her home country. Now, she is terrified that if she travels overseas with the baby, the immigration in those countries could stop her and her husband and accuse them of trafficking a baby because the child has a different name from theirs.

"I regret coming back. I was living 10 years in Europe and had the option to stay there permanently. I came back because I wanted to contribute. But I don't want to live in a system that is inhumane and doesn't conform to what is right and just."

Adela is writing an appeal letter to the NRD director-general. She has also met her family lawyer to explore suing NRD if they refuse to amend the registration of her daughter to add Malik's name. "I hope they come to their senses. I am not going to stand by. If they insist upon it, I'm leaving the country," she says.

Fauziah Ahmad* is facing a similar predicament with her first grandchild. Her son married in Miri and the baby was born premature and placed in the intensive care unit (ICU) because of breathing difficulty. When the baby boy pulled through, the relieved father went to register the child but the NRD refused to list him as the father. He did not register the baby then but went back a second time and again, the NRD said no'. The baby born on Sept 17 remains unregistered till now.

Says Fauziah: "We are still in shock. I want my grandson to bear my son's name. My son is the biological father and loves his baby. "There were complications with the pregnancy and the baby was born premature.

"I don't know what to do, I feel this sense of hopelessness. The minute you sign bin Abdullah', the fatwa ruling will apply and the baby is like an adopted baby (because it loses rights). " The doting grandmother cannot comprehend why anyone would want to punish a helpless baby this way.

"I am begging the Fatwa Council to show some compassion. Allah is all forgiving, all merciful. "God has blessed the family with a child; why destroy his life before it has even begun? "I love my religion but this is not what God wants us to do with helpless children. This is so tragic," says Fauziah whose daughter-in-law is a Muslim convert.

Fauziah does not want her daughter-in-law to have negative feelings about the religion she has embraced to marry her son. "How can the government allow this ruling to pass without looking at the implications?

"Imagine the kind of stigma and trauma these children are going to face. To me, it's against human rights and really uncharitable. The government keeps going on and on about protection of the children. Those in power should protect the welfare of our children."

The matter, she says, has caused her son and daughter-in-law much anguish. "When I see the young parents crying, my heart breaks. We have named the baby Nur" (light). I hope the light will open their (the authorities) eyes to see that they are punishing a child. God gave this child a second chance and it's wrong for others to destroy it."

* All names have been changed in the story to protect the individuals concerned

Recent News

52 weeks 10 hours ago
3 years 16 weeks ago