In limbo after easy adoption

23 May 2010

Sunday May 23, 2010

In limbo after easy adoption


It may be a fast route to adopt a baby illegally. But in the long run, the price to pay is very high, especially when the child grows up to be stateless and helpless.

WHEN *Peter Lau and his wife could not have a baby after two years of trying, they decided to adopt. They had tried various conception methods but none of them produced any results.

“We were not getting any younger. Many of my friends told me to adopt a child,” he says.

So 13 years ago, Chua adopted a baby illegally from Sabah. His sister-in-law *Mary who had just adopted a child herself introduced him to the same people who had helped her get hers.

“I was told that a legal adoption was a tedious and long process so I did not bother trying. I was desperate and placed my faith in the syndicate. The adoption went without a hitch and the birth certificate looked genuine,” he says.

It was only when his daughter was 11 that Lau decided to check the status of her birth certificate.

Convenient process: Many adoptive parents falsify documents because they want to hide the fact that their children are adopted. - AFP

“To my horror, it was a fake one,” he says, adding that the serial number on the birth certificate belonged to someone else.

It was the same for Mary who only found out that her child's birth certificate was a fake when she went to apply for a MyKad (Malaysian identity card).

She had to surrender the birth certificate to the National Registration Department (NRD) and admit to her wrongdoing. When she went to apply for a new birth certificate, she was told to go to Sabah to do it. (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak have separate regulations pertaining to birth registration.)

The adoption process and application for citizenship will have to wait until there is a birth certificate. Until then, Mary can only hope for the best.

“I am worried about her education and her going out by herself. I only let her go out with us,” she says.

As for Lau, he is waiting for the outcome of Mary's case before taking his next step of action.

“I want to play it safe and look at what happens in my sister-in-law's case,” he says. For now, Lau's daughter is able to go to school but he is worried that she may not be able to sit for her PMR examinations.

“I might have to send her to a private school in a worst case scenario,” he says.

Not a new situation

There have been many cases where parents often resort to falsifying documents of their adopted children - many times knowingly. Usually the parents get the assistance of syndicates who claim to have inside connections with the NRD.

They do this because they want to avoid the hassle of a legal adoption or to hide the fact that their children are adopted.

MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong says he has handled a few such cases. Last year, there were nine cases whereas in 2008, he handled 13. He says that those who claim to help couples get babies are syndicates that are only out to make a profit. There are some syndicates who go to the extent of bringing the parents to the NRD but then ask them to wait outside.

“They get money from the victim and say it is meant for the officers inside. In the end, they just pocket the money and produce a fake birth certificate,” he warns.

He says the NRD is sympathetic towards these cases and would not charge those who want to put things right.

But the process would take a while as the NRD has to conduct investigations, more so in cases where the child's name is Yap Ah Seng but he looks Indian, says Chong.

The NRD says in many cases, it is not the birth certificate which is false, but rather the information contained in it.

In an e-mail interview, NRD director-general Datuk Alwi Haji Ibrahim says that for every application for a MyKad or identity card, the department would investigate details such as hospital records to check for authenticity.

“Sometimes, the records don't check out. For example, a mother would have been 58 when she gave birth. We check details like this. When queried, the parents will admit to wrongdoing,” he says, adding that they would also do visual verification as well.

The NRD says they have not kept track of the number of illegal adoptions.

What next

So what happens to the children who are caught in a situation through no fault of their own?

Many parents, including Lau, who want to make things right are fearful of the repercussions if the authorities find out that the documents were falsified.

Alwi assures that parents would not be penalised or charged for any wrongdoing, but the NRD would make corrections to the birth certificate and advise the guardian to apply for the adoption according to the procedure if the child is still below 18.

The Social Welfare Department (SWD) is willing to help out on this issue, says its Children's Division director Nor Amni Yusoff. Parents facing this problem could get a support letter from their headquarters, she says. “Anybody born in Malaysia has a right to a document except when it comes to citizenship.”

The SWD would conduct a series of interviews with the parents to see if they were “fit” and had the child's best interest at heart.

But she warns that people will have to be patient and realise that there is more than one government agency handling the procedure.

“Some people want it to be done in one day but then the police and the NRD are involved. It will take at least a few months (to get the birth certificate),” she says.

As for citizenship, Alwi says that a child's citizenship status is determined by the biological parent's citizenship status during birth.

“If there is a document to prove that the child is a Malaysian citizen, he/she can definitely apply for MyKad,” says Alwi.

He says that if the birth parents are traced, DNA tests could be conducted to verify the link.

Those children whose birth parents are unknown, however, will find it much harder to get citizenship.

“They can apply for citizenship but whether or not it is granted depends on the government,” says Alwi.

Don't falsify papers

But to prevent any trouble from the start, it would be best to go through all the legalities and register the birth and adoption of a child legally.

Yayasan Salam Malaysia general manager Dr Hartini Zainuddin says this would be in the best interest of the child.

“It's a lot less painful in the long run,” she says.

She admits that some people find the adoption process a bit tedious, especially if they do not know what to do.

Nor Amni believes there is a wrong perception that the adoption process is very tedious and takes a very long time. Actually, the process takes about two years for a departmental (NRD) adoption and three to six months for a court adoption.

“Those who opt for illegal adoption pay so much and end up getting conned,” says Nor Amni, who strongly advises parents to go through the right channels in the best interest of the child.

“If the registration is illegal and you pass away, your child doesn't get anything. Don't take the easy way out because it's not fair to the child,” she says.

Dr Hartini, who hopes the children will eventually be given their rights, has urged parents to get help from NGOs.

*Not their real names