Malaysian citizenship laws do not recognize children born to foreigners on Malaysian soil as citizens of Malaysia. Thousands of children have no form of identification, making them ineligible for admission into the Malaysian school system. Many children are thrown into the work force in markets like Safma in Kota Kinabalu. Young Filipino boys push around wooden carts in Safma Market. The boys are paid whatever the customer gives them.
The children do not work for anyone. They are self-employed, like this 11-year-old boy. They roam throughout the market with their wooden cars seeking out the potential customers and make as much as they possibly can while the market is still busy. Loads of fish can vary in size, from a few small bags of fish to a load that weighs several times more than the weight of the child.
A group of stateless children play cards. Many locals feel that the large number of stateless children have introduced unwanted social ills in the the community, such as: petty crimes, drugs and begging.
Fishing boats unload their cargo throughout the early morning. Most children will work from well before sunrise to around 1:00pm.
A slum in Telipok, 40 kiloThe boys push heavy loads from the market to restaurants or cars nearby. Most make less than $1 a day.
A slum in Telipok, 40 kilometers outside of Kota Kinabalu, is filled with stateless children. It is a struggle for documents. Children who possess documents are able to attend private schools and some public primary level schools. Those who don't are shut out of most public programs.
In Kinarut, kids do nothing during the day but sit around, play games and gamble. Once a UNHCR camp, Kinarut is now a crime-ridden slum. All of the chidren were born in Sabah to illegal Filipino immigrants and have never been to school.
Not far from SAFMA Market, is one of Kota Kinabalu's produce markets and the home of another group of stateless Filipino children. Over the past few years the Malaysian government has established several special task forces to address the issue of illegal immigration in Sabah. As a result, parents were deported, leaving and untold number of stateless children behind in Sabah to fend for themselves. They make money from begging, working in the markets or selling cigarettes or lottery results.
Crackdowns on illegal immigrants in Sabah have caused many of the stateless children living in the streets, like this group, to band together for protection, which isolates them into an even more fragile, detached and uncertain. A 13-year-old boy has no birth certificate, ID card or any proof of identity because he was born to illegal Filipino immigrants. He was left abandoned when both of his parents were arrested and deported back to the Philippines.
Two stateless street children sit outside a restaurant and wait for customers to leave in downtown Kota Kinabalu. Local Malays have grown intolerant with the large number of stateless street children. Illeagal immigration and the issue of the children has become a heated debate in Sabah, yet both the Malaysian and the Filipino governments claim the children are not their responsibility.