Sitting in a park in Subang Jaya, 21-year-old Sara (not her real name) looks like any other young woman brimming with potential and eager to embrace each new day.
She sits on a wooden bench, speaking about her ambition to become a lawyer and to help those in need.
For Sara, though, this dream and many others may never come true – all because of one piece of paper, or the lack thereof.
Sara, like tens of thousands of children throughout the country, is classified as stateless.
She was born and raised in Sabah along with her two siblings to a Malaysian father and a Filipino mother. But although they lived together for many years, they never registered for marriage.
Her mother returned to the Philippines in 2004 after giving birth to Sara’s youngest sibling, leaving her father to care for them alone.
At first, Sara did not see her situation as much of a problem. She was treated like any other child and never experienced any discrimination.
“I started asking why I was even doing this as I had no direction to go.”
But then she turned 12, the year when Malaysian children obtain their official identity cards or MyKads.
And then she began attending secondary school, where she realised that she could not participate in as many activities as her friends.
“I managed to finish my studies at a public school because I was a good student and the school was more accepting about the situation,” she said.
“But towards the end of taking SPM, I started asking why I was even doing this as I had no direction to go,” she added.
“While my friends could apply to go to a public university and plan their future, I could not.”
As a stateless person, Sara cannot apply for a driving licence or open up a bank account, either.
“It was really discouraging and demotivating for me to go on,” she said.
‘Do it myself’
Struggling through a wave of despair, Sara chose to take a year off after completing her SPM in order to try and make sense of her life.
“I understood that my father was busy working to raise us. I could not ask him to go out there and do it for me,” she said.
“I had to find the opportunity myself.”