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Stateless youth dreams of making Malaysia a better place

But without citizenship, Edward Tan might not even be able to sit for SPM.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
3 minute read
Edward Tan speaks to MalaysiaNow about his hopes for the future at his home in Klang.
Edward Tan speaks to MalaysiaNow about his hopes for the future at his home in Klang.

Since he was a child, Edward Tan dreamed of becoming a police officer to fight crime and make Malaysia a better place. 

But with his citizenship status in limbo, he may never be able to call himself a Malaysian, let alone contribute anything to the country. 

Tan was born in Klang in 2008. But he was never granted citizenship as his father's marriage to his birth mother, an Indonesian, was not officially registered. 

Two weeks after he was born, his mother returned to her home country and cut off all ties. 

Now 16, he lives with his father and his stepmother, Laddawan Caisaran. 

His father, Tan Thian Leng, raised him with the help of his grandmother, Lee Lay Wah, who is 76 this year. 

Edward Tan's grandmother, Lee Lay Wah, gestures as she recalls the family's efforts to obtain citizenship for her grandson. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Lee said they were initially confused as they had never heard of an individual being stateless. 

"We didn't know where to go or which authority to refer to," she said. 

"We just took his birth details from the clinic and registered him at the National Registration Department (JPN). We filled out the forms. That's all."

When she saw that her grandchild had been declared stateless, she was shocked. 

"I had never heard of that until then," she said. 

Not knowing what to do next, the family found themselves dependent on what little information they could glean from their friends.  

At first, they were told to appeal to the home ministry. But their application was rejected. 

Four years later, Lee hired a lawyer who advised them to apply for citizenship by registering Tan as her son's adopted child.  

"We petitioned to adopt him and got approval as well as a green birth certificate," she said. 

"But still, he was not considered a citizen."

Edward Tan holds up his uniform as a probationary prefect.

Then, the lawyer recommended that they register Tan under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution for citizenship applications. 

"In 2013, we were informed that our application had been rejected," Lee said. 

By then, Lee had given up hope of her grandson ever being declared a Malaysian. In 2016, though, she read about a boy named Navin Moorthy who had succeeded in obtaining citizenship. 

Encouraged, she decided to try again. She managed to meet with the lawyers who had handled Navin's case, who told her to try applying to the home ministry once more. 

"We waited until 2019 when we were able to meed with a ministry officer," she said. 

"But we were shocked to learn that the application we had made in August 2016 was only received in January 2018. 

"Are there no clear SOPs between the home ministry and JPN? In the end, it is the stateless children who end up as the victims."

Edward Tan sits in the kitchen with his grandmother and parents at their home in Klang. 

Despite the bureaucratic challenges, Lee remained thankful that Tan was able to attend school like any other child. 

But Tan is in Form Four this year and should be sitting for the Form Five SPM examination next year. 

Lee fears that he will be barred from taking the exam due to his lack of citizenship. 

Tan himself hopes that the matter will be settled as quickly as possible so that he can live a normal life. 

The first thing he plans to do if he is declared a citizen is to find a part-time job so that he can help support his family. 

"Without citizenship, there will always be a limit to what I can do," he said. 

"I don't even dare to go too far with my friends because I'm afraid that I will be arrested."