Home Civil Society Voices Separating children from parents at immigration depots not in children’s best interests

Separating children from parents at immigration depots not in children’s best interests

Photograph: Tenaganita Facebook page

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Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) welcomes Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s statement that children detained at immigration depots will soon be removed from the depots and placed in the care of organisations that specialise in child welfare.

The detaining of children with other adult strangers is not acceptable, as children should be detained with their respective families and parents (mother and father).

Rather than separating children from their families, as proposed by the minister, it is better to provide special detention facilities just for families with children, rather than separating the children from their families.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Malaysia is a signatory, in Article 9(1) state that states parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will … unless the court in judicial review determines that separation is in the best interest of the child.

Separating especially a young child from his or her mother or father is certainly not in the best interests of the child. A better solution is the provision of special detention facilities for families with children.

Removal after conviction and serving sentence?

At the moment, those at the immigration depot, including children, have broken the law. To be removed from Malaysia back to their country of origin may take some time – as these law-breakers will first be charged, then serve their sentence if convicted, and only then be allowed to return home.

As an example, [the offence of] unlawfully being in Malaysia (Section 6), if convicted in court, may result in a fine not exceeding RM10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both, and [the offender] shall also be liable to whipping of not more than six strokes.

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With regard to removal from Malaysia, Section 32 of the Immigration Act 1959/63 states:

(1) Any person who is convicted of an offence under sections 5, 6, 8 or 9 shall be liable to be removed from Malaysia by order of the Director General…

This, on the face of it, means that one can only be removed after being convicted and having served the sentence.

Would these children also be tried and sentenced, serve their sentence and only then be returned to their country of origin?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years”. However, in Malaysia, many of these ‘children’ can also still be charged and tried.

Repatriation on application for certain classes

There is also in the Immigration Act the possibility of repatriation for certain classes on application to the director general. Should undocumented migrants detained with children be made an additional class, which will allow these families with children to be repatriated fast, without the preliminary requirement of first serving their sentence before withdrawal from Malaysia.

Sadly, we do not have the needed information of how many babies, young and older children are in immigration depots in Malaysia. Were they arrested with their parent(s) and other siblings? A single solution for all children, irrespective of their ages may not be best.

One must also look into why families or individuals are coming to Malaysia. Is this because of our porous borders and corruption or because there are employers willing to employ the undocumented? Whilst Malaysia seems to focus on the migrants, it may be time to target corruption and even review migrant employment policies.

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Madpet is of the opinion that the best option is that family units with children should be housed together in special facilities, not [at] the same [place] with other adult undocumented migrants.

Madpet also feels that it is best that these families be speedily repatriated, rather than being first convicted and removed from Malaysia only after serving their sentences.

Madpet is also concerned that the minister says that children will be under the care of NGOs specialising in child welfare. It is best that even if children are to be cared for, it must be done by the government in government facilities.

Madpet reiterates the call for the abolition of the corporal punishment of whipping. The whipping of poor migrants who come to Malaysia to find jobs to survive is inhumane.

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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