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The Baby Isaac Story

by: Elliot Aruldoss and Jewel Philemon/

Three year old Mohamed Isaac made waves recently when he was repatriated to Malaysia as a ‘stateless’ child despite being born in Singapore as the son of a Singaporean man, Because there was a perception that Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) had acted unjustly in treating the child, Mohamed Isaac's case caused quite an uproar among many.

Mohamed Isaac, or Baby Isaac as he is fondly called, was born out of wedlock to Isnin and Preeti (not their actual names) on 11 November 2007. Isnin is a Singaporean and Preeti is a Malaysian.

Baby Isaac was cared for by his mother until September 2008, when his father was arrested for a drug related case and his mother for overstaying.

When this happened, Baby Issac, then 10-months-old, was taken into the custody of MCYS. MCYS then contacted Isnin’s sister to take custody of the baby, but she declined as she was already caring for his daughter from a previous relationship. They were also financially insecure at the time.

MCYS then contacted, Mdm Asmah, who has been fostering children since 2004, to take Isaac in until his mother is released.

Mrs Nadiah Ali, daughter of Mdm Asmah’s in speaking to TOC said that in October 2008, they were told that they would have to care for Baby Isaac indefinitely as there was little or no indication that Baby Isaac’s biological parents would be coming out of jail or be able to support the child financially.

In early 2009, the foster parents learned from MCYS that both sides of Baby Isaac's biological family were not interested in taking custody of him. The foster family, then expressed an interest in adopting Baby Isaac.

Sometime in September 2009, MCYS made the foster family sign a case management statement acknowledging that Baby Isaac is, in fact, stateless, and cannot be adopted in Singapore by them.

MCYS explained to the foster family that Isaac’s biological mother is a Malaysian and as the child was born out of wedlock, in accordance with the laws of Singapore, the child is not a citizen of Singapore by birth. His citizenship status follows that of his mother’s. MCYS had explained to the foster parents from the onset that upon the mother’s discharge from prison, both she and her child would have to return to Malaysia.

MCYS also explained to the foster family that since Baby Isaac was born in Singapore and not in Malaysia, he was also not yet a Malaysian citizen, and was considered stateless.

Subsequently, MCYS made the foster family sign an agreement indicating they understood that the child would not be put up for adoption in Singapore, that all information pertaining to the child should be kept confidential and that the child can only be adopted in Malaysia. The foster parents agreed to cooperate with MCYS on the care plan for the child.

MCYS further explained to the foster family that MCYS was liaising with the Malaysian authorities to ensure that the welfare needs of the child would continue to be met in Malaysia upon Baby Isaac’s return to Malaysia.

In their press release (HERE), MCYS said that they had their officers meet with the foster parents throughout the time the child was in their care.

MCYS recounted that they had made a total of 13 visits and more than 20 phone calls over a one year period to ensure that the child was doing well; and to prepare the foster parents for the return of the child to his natural mother. MCYS' statement said that these meetings intensified as the time drew near for the child to return with his mother to Malaysia.

Mrs Ali in speaking to TOC said that MCYS verbally conveyed to the foster family on the 12th of November 2010, that the biological mother is willing to give Baby Isaac up for adoption, but that they could only adopt him in Malaysia. Then in December 2010, she says, MCYS conveyed to the foster family that Baby Isaac had to be repatriated. They didn't mention if his biological mother wanted him or not. (The foster family's version of events is HERE.)

In their statement, MCYS said that Baby Isaac’s biological mother has the parental rights to the child and that prior to her return to Malaysia, the biological mother had indicated her desire to continue caring for her child. MCYS also stated that the child would be taken care of by the Malaysian Social Welfare Department which will work with the biological mother on the care arrangements for the child.

As part of Malaysia's child welfare procedures, the Malaysian Social Welfare Department has applied for a court order to place the child temporarily in a children’s home pending further arrangements. This they say, will help ensure that the child’s welfare is looked into and protected. In the meantime, assurance was given that the mother has access to the child.

Mrs Ali in speaking to TOC took pains to explain that it was not necessary for Baby Isaac to be returned to them. They merely wished to see that he is happy and more importantly have an opportunity to tell Baby Isaac that they had not abandoned him.

Mrs Ali said that the foster family were told by MCYS not to go to Johor Bahru to search for him and that they (MCYS) are unable to disclose any more information on this matter to them. The exact whereabouts of Baby Isaac is unknown to the foster family.

’Stateless’
TOC's own research showed that MCYS acted lawfully and in accordance to the Constitution in determining the child's repatriation to Malaysia.

Clause (2) of Article 54 provides that a person born in Singapore is not a citizen if neither parent is a citizen. The corollary is that the child is a citizen if either of the married parents is a citizen.

However, in the event that the parents are unmarried, section 15 of the Third Schedule (Article 140) to the Constitution provides that references to a person's father or to 'parent' in general will, by default, refer to mother. Therefore the citizenship of the child can only follow that of the mother, the father's nationality in the absence of marriage being irrelevant.

Had Baby Isaac's mother been Singaporean, Isaac would have been a Singaporean too. Unfortunately this is not the case as his mother is a Malaysia citizen, disqualifying Baby Isaac for Singaporean citizenship by birth.

And according to the Malaysian Constitution:

“Every person born in Singapore of whose parents one at least is at the time of the birth a citizen and who is not born a citizen… are citizens of Malaysia by operation of Law of Persons born on or after Malaysia Day (31 Aug 1963).”

Even if MCYS was legally correct in repatriating Baby Isaac to Malaysia, did they discharge their social obligation well?

MCYS has no comment
TOC requested MCYS to clarify if they discharged their social obligation in a responsible manner and asked them the following questions:

  1. How was the child prepared to be re-united with the mother? Was there a familiarisation process?
  2. If MCYS does not recognise the father, why did they initially ask the sister of the biological father to take care of the child?
  3. Does MCYS view the child as a Hindu or a Muslim? Because if they don't recognise the father (as he is illegitimate), than should he be considered a Hindu? if he was considered a Hindu, why place him in foster care of a Muslim home?
  4. Will MCYS be keeping tabs on the child to check on his well-being?
  5. Does MCYS recognise the right of the child to association to the biological father? If he wants to contact the child, will they inform him the child's whereabouts?
  6. If someone from Singapore expresses interest to adopt the child (and if the Malaysian welfare services has indicated that the biological mother would not care for the child), would MCYS liaise with the JB social welfare department to assist in this process?

MCYS replied to TOC's questions that they do not "have anything to add to what we have already stated" in their earlier statement.

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This article was edited on 19 July 2011 at 9.55pm, to better reflect the Singapore constitution as it pertains to this case.