Activists call for citizenship autonomy to be returned to Sarawak after 9 yo girl stopped from attending school

File photo of Peter John (left) and Bill Jugah.

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KUCHING, Feb 28: The heartrending case of a 9-year-old girl in Lawas who was stopped from attending school due to her citizenship status has led human rights activists Peter John Jaban and Bill Jugah to call for full autonomy over administrative requirements for citizenship to be returned to Sarawak.

It was reported in the media that the girl, Jeanny Lianna Ating, was born and raised in Sarawak but she and her four elder siblings were denied citizenship following complications due to their parents’ late marriage registration.

Her father Ating Agong, 55, said he and his wife had problems in registering their marriage both through Adat Lun Bawang (Lun Bawang customary laws) and at the National Registration Department (NRD) until the matter was properly materialised in 2016.


Following this, Peter expressed his disappointment that statelessness remains a problem in Sarawak.

He asserted that the criteria for citizenship is set by the Federal Constitution where the guiding principle is that every person born within Malaysia of whose parents one at least is at the time of birth either a citizen or a permanent resident should be given citizenship and all the rights that this affords.

“This is a statement of intent for our nation, for how we wish to include those born within our borders, and yet NRD insisted on doing everything in their power to exclude anyone who doesn’t quite fit their exact profile.

“Sarawak natives have been particularly hard hit by their administrative rigidity, particularly concerning registrations of marriage as a pre-requisite, but this inflexibility or, frankly, lack of understanding of the local context has impacted on all Sarawak communities and many Sarawak citizens,” he said in a statement today.

He cited other cases such as a former border scout who was denied citizenship until his death as well as the so-called rainbow family in which seven siblings have identity cards ranging in colour from blue and green to red and that this case remained unresolved even during after the deaths of their parents and one of the siblings.

Therefore, he called on Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg to bring the autonomy for the approval process back to the State in order to ease the ‘unbelievable’ delays involved as well as allow for more appropriate administrative requirements to be drafted.

Meanwhile, Bill said the NRD needs to overhaul its policies in the State in order to recognise the stateless situation of many natives.

“Otherwise, just give Sarawak the full autonomy on NRD,” he said, adding that the role of the Sarawak NRD director and staff is akin to an office boy or mail delivery service where the process of approval for applications from Sarawak only comes from Putrajaya.

Bill who is also the founder and chief visionary officer for Independent Council of Natives (Icon) also opined rules set in Putrajaya which have no understanding of Sarawak’s context or the Adat (customary laws), cannot be allowed to continue as it has resulted in denial of Sarawak natives’ nationality, rights to healthcare and education and even their right to vote.

“We want the State government to take control of the registration of stateless people or even issue its own registration card.

“If the government lacks the fortitude to establish its own identity card, Icon is willing to initiate this move even if it is seen as a sign of being recalcitrant or even rebellious,” he said.

An online portal at https://bit.ly/BillJugah has been set up to receive such cases so that they can be organised and recorded properly, he added. — DayakDaily