At a women’s empowerment programme in 2003, Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA) Malaysia president Saravanan Sinapan and his team realised there was an issue when applicants for the income generation project could not produce their identity cards.
They then found out that the children of these women did not have birth certificates either.
In 2004, Saravanan arranged a meeting with the National Registration Department (NRD).
Together with Nanthini Ramalo, who is now DHRRA’s women’s programme director, they launched awareness drives on the importance of documentation.
Saravanan said the authorities started looking at the matter seriously in 2008 when the 10th Malaysia Plan was being tabled.
“At that time, I had 3,000 cases on my hand and the number made them pay attention. They asked me to carry out a study and present the findings.
“By 2013, we solved 5,425 cases by tracing their family trees. We have also started compiling data since last June and have completed the findings for Perak and Negri Sembilan,” he said.
He added that statelessness is no longer confined to rural populations, and after 11 years and 7,996 cases, the non-governmental organisation had found the problem also existed in urban communities.
“Our volunteers have found cases in Petaling Jaya and even Bangsar.
“In the course, of our work we have met families where three generations do not have legal documents,” he said.–Story and photo by Grace Chen