Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah

KUCHING: The case of a Sarawak-born teenage boy, whose application for a Malaysian citizenship has been denied by the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, warrants a thorough study in relations to the court’s ruling about his adoption by a Malaysian couple not equating with automatic citizenship for the boy.

Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah believes that such study is very important before the laws pertaining to adoption in Malaysia could be considered for any amendment.

“Let’s look at this case thoroughly and understand the issues involved in it first,” she said when asked for her views about the case of the teenage boy – identified only as ‘L’ to protect his privacy.

L was born in Sarawak in 2002 to unknown parents, and he was issued a red-coloured birth certificate in 2017 where he was registered by the Regional Registrar of Births and Deaths Sarawak as a ‘non-citizen’, instead of the usual green-coloured birth certificates for Malaysian citizens, said Malay Mail in its news report yesterday.

L was then legally adopted in 2018 by a Malaysian couple in Sarawak under the state law, the Sarawak Adoption Ordinance.

In March this year, the boy via his adoptive parents filed a lawsuit through an originating summons against three parties – the National Registration Department’s director-general, the Home Minister and the government of Malaysia – in a bid to seek a declaration of the boy having a Malaysian citizenship status, as well as for him to be issued a new birth certificate recognising him as a Malaysian citizen and also for him to be issued with a MyKad.

In this regard, Fatimah was perplexed over the failure of the adoptive parents to apply for L’s Malaysian citizenship using the provisions under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution, which should grant the Home Ministry the authority to consider the special circumstances of applicants.

“I’m wondering why they (adoptive parents) did not apply for citizenship under (Article) 15A,” she said.

More specifically, the special power to register children under Article 15A is subjected to Article 18, which states that the federal government may, under special circumstances as it thinks fit, approve any person under the age of 21 years old to be registered as a Malaysian citizen.

Lawyer Eric Toh, who represented L, was quoted by the Malay Mail as saying that High Court Judge Datuk Seri Mariana Yahya had examined a provision in Sarawak’s adoption law and ruled that the rights that a child adopted in Sarawak would receive upon adoption did not include taking on the citizenship of the adoptive parents.

“The child was adopted by Malaysian citizens – both are Sarawakians. So we tried to apply under the Sarawak Adoption Ordinance, which is a bit different from the Adoption Act in Peninsular Malaysia.

“We argued that the Sarawak Adoption Ordinance said that the rights of an adopted child would be similar as if he was born in wedlock to these Malaysian parents – so similar to a legitimate child.

“But the Court said in the particular section, there’s a specific restriction on the rights given to the adopted child, whereby it says it is limited to the obligation and estate of the adoptive parent.

“So (the judge) said, it wouldn’t grant citizenship to the child after adoption, unlike certain other countries, which says once you’re adopted, you can get citizenship for that child – like Australia,” Toh told reporters when met outside the courtroom after the High Court’s decision was delivered in chambers on Thursday.

L’s lawyers had previously argued that Section 2(2) of the Sarawak Adoption Ordinance would mean that an adopted child should be treated as if he were born to his adoptive parents and that he should take on their nationality, instead of being rendered stateless or take on a different nationality due to his biological parents.

Under Section 2(2), it is stated that an adopted child shall have the same standing as a child born in wedlock to the adopting parent or parents, and shall have all the rights and privileges of a legitimate child in respect of the obligations and estate of the adopting parents.

Toh had said that L’s lawyers were arguing that Section 2(2) had two separate limbs operating independently – the first part stating the adopted child’s same position as a legitimate child born to the adoptive parents, while the second part according such an adopted child the same rights and privileges that a legitimate child born to the adoptive parents would get.

“But the court seems to suggest that the second part is limiting the rights, the first part, because the second part only talks about obligation and estate, (it) doesn’t talk about citizenship. That’s why the Court said it could not grant under the Sarawak Adoption Ordinance as well, because it doesn’t expressly say so,” he said as quoted by the Malay Mail.

It is reported that L’s adoptive parents had put up advertisements on newspapers in their bid to trace the boy’s biological parents.