subscribe: Posts | Comments


Puteri Drawing JPEG

This is a drawing by Puteri. In her own words: “This is my mother and this is my father. Mother wants to go walking. Father wants to go to work, but he drops me off here first. Mother is going to meet her boyfriend but Father won’t let her. I just sit here studying… This is a cat – it’s a pregnant cat. That’s my house, and that’s my mother’s boyfriend.”

by Helen Sneha

Puteri (not her real name) is an 8-year-old girl. Her birth was registered using borrowed documentation and as a result her citizenship status is indeterminate. She is still waiting for a formal birth certificate and presently lives with her parents.

Puteri had about her a peculiar mix of innocence and worldliness from the start. She surveyed us just as keenly as we did her and spoke candidly and directly about her life and circumstances. Like many other children her age, she told us she enjoyed playing badminton and drawing. She also bemoaned bath time arriving every day, something many eight-year-olds can attest to. However, unlike other eight-year-olds, Puteri showed she was attuned to issues far beyond her years. She displayed a keen awareness of the dangers that lurk in everyday life, telling us why her mother doesn’t let her play in the playground she prefers.

“Mother’s said I can go play many times, but she never actually lets me go play in that place. In fact, she doesn’t even let me go anywhere else… it’s because children go missing. You can see the picture downstairs – it’s been there for a long time. It’s a picture of a child who went missing.”

It comes as no surprise that Puteri is well acquainted with the harsher side of life, since she is without the vital documents that would facilitate a carefree childhood. Puteri’s mother is an immigrant who has worked here for a long time now, and registered her child’s birth using borrowed documents. As the details of her passport do not match those of Puteri’s birth registration, Puteri is registered but does not possess a birth certificate. She is already two years past schooling age, but does not have access to education in public schools.

Instead, Puteri is fortunate to have the chance at a primary school education via Yayasan Chow Kit (YCK). She said she has many friends there and learns “ABCs, English, Malay, and Mathematics”. She earnestly told us, “I don’t like watching films. I like studying. I really do!” and said that when she grew up she would like to be a veterinarian. With five cats under her wing and a self-professed love for all animals (“except tigers and lions”), she would appear to be well on her way.

Except that we can only hope that her path to further education will be smooth sailing. YCK can ease the passage a great deal, but the fact essentially remains that, while she continues to be undocumented, Puteri exists within a system that slams shut as many doors as it opens. In her case, her lack of documentation compounds already fraught circumstances. She was solemn when she shared with us some details of her family life:

“When my father comes home late my mother gets angry at him. Father actually hasn’t done anything except come home late because he has so much work. And mother just scolds him. Every single day they fight. One minute they’re fighting, the next they’re not. It makes my head spin, listening to them fight. I wanted to find a new mother and a new father but my mother wouldn’t let me.”

Puteri also demonstrated a remarkable awareness of money matters, recognizing that her mother’s financial situation could change from day to day.

“I asked my mother for ice-cream, but she said she didn’t have money… but the next day she had money on her, and she did buy me ice-cream. And just now she bought me a bun and a drink. So mother has money now.”

A sharp sense of injustice penetrated many of the things Puteri shared, including not always having enough money and once missing out on a class study trip. It is certainly not misplaced, seeing how her lack of documentation has denied her the basic rights and simple privileges of childhood. She was unequivocal about her feelings about Malaysia, though. Yes, she likes it here. And why?

“Because there are many games here, there’s KLCC and kids play there. There’s Titiwangsa, places to walk around. But I’ll wait until mother and father have more money before I do that.”

It is unfortunate for Puteri that she is right – waiting will characterize a large part of her future. The wait for a birth certificate for her continues, and the longer it takes, the greater the risk that her lack of documentation will snowball and seriously hinder her opportunities for the future. In the meantime, we’ll be working and waiting on a Malaysia that will not only be liked by children like Puteri, but also like them back.

VoC would like to thank Yayasan Chow Kit for arranging a series of interviews, one of which was the inspiration for this piece.


Helen Sneha is a final-year Bachelor of Arts student, double-majoring in Writing and International Studies. She hopes to continue in research and academia after graduating and is especially interested in reading about the dissolution of Yugoslavia.  She likes tennis, funky rings and dinosaurs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *