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In Malaysia, UNICEF equity programme enables undocumented children to enrol in school

UNICEF’s equity-based approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals aims to reach the poorest and most vulnerable children and families with cost-effective interventions for sustainable progress. Here is one in a series of stories that make the case for equity.

By Steve Nettleton

KAMPUNG NUMBAK, Malaysia, 16 May 2011 – For residents of the village of Kampung Numbak, on the coast of Malaysian Borneo, home is a community built on stilts above the seaside – a cluster of creaking walkways and steel rooftops.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Steve Nettleton reports on a UNICEF-supported education centre for migrant children in Malaysia.  Watch in RealPlayer


In this village, just north of the city of Kota Kinabalu, live some 8,000 people, many of them undocumented migrant workers from the Philippines. Without official status, their children have until recently had no access to regular schools. While some educational facilities for migrant workers do exist, they are few in number, and often overcrowded and underfunded.

“It’s very sad that some of the children could not go to school,” says Selenah Binti Hj Pilson, a teacher and mother of eight children, who has lived in Kampung Numbak for most of her life. “The children would go fishing, they would play near the sea or under the bridges. That was basically how the children spent their time every day.”

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/
Benhal bin Muljibin, 11, whose family is from the Philippines, participates in a maths lesson at the UNICEF-supported education centre. Although born in Malaysia, Benhal does not have a birth certificate and is unable to attend a government school.

That is now changing, thanks to an equity-based approach. An education centre, built by the community with funds from UNICEF and ground-breaking involvement of the Malaysian government, offers classes and activities to some 320 undocumented children in Kampung Numbak.

Dramatic change

“This initiative is quite significant,” said UNICEF Representative in Malaysia Hans Olsen. “From now on all children of Kampung Numbak will be able to go to school. And that’s a big difference.”

The centre follows the national curriculum, with an initial emphasis on reading and writing. Vocational skills courses, such as sewing, carpentry, and boat making, will also be added at a later stage. UNICEF aims for the school to serve as a model for a nationwide effort to provide education to an estimated 44,000 undocumented children not enrolled in education.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/
Girls on their way to the UNICEF-supported education centre for undocumented children in Kampung Numbak, Sabah. Without birth certificates, many have previously been unable to attend school.

“By giving them education, especially that they can read, and they can write, and after that they will continue to have skills training,” said Malaysian Deputy Minister of Education Haji Mohd Puad bin Zarkashi. “So I think this is good for their future. That’s why we are very committed to providing education for them.”

A place to learn

Benhal bin Muljibin, 11, was born in Malaysia, but doesn’t have a birth certificate and so cannot attend a government school. He’s now in fifth grade at the UNICEF-supported education centre.

He says without school, many children in his village would get involved in gambling or stealing. “I like to go to school to learn, meet new friends. I want to really study hard so I can be smart,” he said.

Benhal and other marginalized children in Malaysia will now be able to play a greater role in shaping their family’s futures with, or without, documentation.



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