Bajau Laut children play at a water fountain on Gaya Street in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: A Sabah NGO is objecting to the media’s negative portrayal of the Bajau Laut children as causing a nuisance in Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah Human Rights Centre (Sabah HRC) co-founder Anne Baltazar feels that portraying the children in a negative light may make them more of a “target” for the various communities.

She said apprehending the Bajau Laut children would not solve the issue. Instead, she said, the authorities should work with the NGOs for a better solution.

“As a migratory people, they have for centuries moved around the waters of eastern Borneo and the Sulu archipelago, without formal recognition by any nation-state.

“Due to this, many Bajau Laut lack legal identity documents which causes them to be at high risk of being stateless.

“Children are particularly vulnerable as they are unable to access education, healthcare, and other basic rights without a legal identity document.

“Most Bajau Laut were born in Sabah, live on boats and have never left Malaysia. They should not be conflated with irregular migrants,” Baltazar said here today.

She said the Bajau Laut children were at risk of statelessness and had to take to the streets to earn a living because of the lack of education and a dignified livelihood.

“By withholding access to education for these children, we are simply directing them to the streets where they fall easy prey to begging syndicates, abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking and other vices,” she said.

Baltazar said Malaysia has been a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) since 1995 and that Article 28 of the convention affirms that it is every child’s right to an education.

READ  Number of flood evacuees in Kota Tinggi remains at 717

“However, Malaysia has yet to lift its reservation on Article 28(1)(a) which requires state parties to provide compulsory and free primary education for all.

“Although the Child Act 2001 in its preamble states that ‘every child is entitled to protection and assistance in all circumstances without regard to distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or physical, mental or emotional disabilities or any other status’, compulsory primary education is not afforded to all children of Malaysia, leaving out vulnerable children who do not have avenues to be recognised as citizens due to Malaysia’s law on birth registration and nationality,” she said.

She said these laws were unfair to a group of children whose basic rights to primary education had been denied because of their lack of identity documents.

Baltazar said social ostracism of the Bajau Laut children in the media further damaged the public’s opinion of them.

She said the children were a victim of deep institutional and systemic discrimination and inequality.

“The media have a social responsibility in contextualising this issue and educating the public about vulnerable communities,” she said.

On Feb 9, Sabah media outlets reported that Bajau Laut children were making Kota Kinabalu their playground. The Borneo Post, for instance, quoted Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew as saying “we cannot tolerate such gross indecency on our streets”.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here