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Good grades but no citizenship leaves young girl in the lurch

13-year-old Clara Sonia Joseph dreams of becoming a doctor but might never achieve her ambition.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
3 minute read
Clara Sonia Joseph studies hard and does well at school but has little chance of becoming a doctor one day without citizenship.
Clara Sonia Joseph studies hard and does well at school but has little chance of becoming a doctor one day without citizenship.

For as long as she can remember, 13-year-old Clara Sonia Joseph has wanted to be a doctor. 

But while she has the grades to achieve her dreams, chances of her earning a medical degree one day are slim as she lacks something else: the official title of a Malaysian citizen. 

Clara was abandoned in 2013 by her birth mother, an Indonesian national who decided to return to her home country. 

At just three years old, Clara was left in the care of Shamini Gopal Krishnan, who lived with her two children in Klang. 

Shamini knew Clara, who had another name at the time, as her birth mother would often visit the welfare centre for special needs children run by her son. 

She said the woman had offered the centre her services as a cleaner. 

"She would often come with her daughter, who could only speak Tamil," she said. 

"She once asked if she could leave her daughter in the care of the centre, but I said no because it was a place for special needs children." 

Clara does her homework in her room.

Nevertheless, Shamini felt compassion for the woman and agreed to look after the girl while she was at work.

One day, the woman did not turn up to collect her daughter. 

It was only a month later that Shamini and her husband, Charles Joseph, received a call from her, telling them that she had returned to Medan in Indonesia. 

"We made a police report straight away and were given permission to care for Clara temporarily," Shamini said. 

"Clara never stopped crying, and we had trouble communicating with her because she could only speak Tamil and we only spoke English and Malay."

Clara greets her adoptive father after he comes home from work.

Shamini and Charles eventually succeeded in adopting Clara after undergoing a number of processes including obtaining a birth certificate stating her as a non-citizen.

But their efforts to obtain citizenship for the girl have been in limbo until today.

"We applied to the home ministry that very year, and we handed over all the documents they asked for, but no decision has been made yet," Shamini said.

"But we haven't given up hope. From time to time, we get a response from the ministry." 

Meanwhile, though, Clara has limited access to education and health facilities due to her status as a non-citizen. 

She managed to enrol in a government school with the help of S Subramaniam and P Kamalanathan of MIC, who were a minister and deputy minister at the time. 

But she needs to get approval from the district education department at the start of every school year. 

Clara holds up her birth certificate which states that she is a non-citizen.

"In health matters, Clara is treated like a foreigner – we need to pay more to get treatment for her," Shamini said. 

This is a problem as Clara has inflammatory bowel disease for which she requires periodic treatment. 

Shamini is also worried about how Clara will go to university. 

"She is a clever girl and scored four A's in her final examinations for Standard Six last year," she said.

"She got A's for Bahasa Melayu, English, science and mathematics. But what good are her grades if she can't go to university?"