A three-year-old boy born in Singapore is at the centre of an increasingly bitter and high profile adoption tussle.
Mohamed Isaac Bin Mohamed Adnan was born in Singapore in 2008 after his biological mother, a Malaysian, and Singaporean father were convicted and sent to prison for two and eight years respectively for overstaying and drug offences.
When he was 10 months old, Isaac was placed under the care of volunteer foster parents Mohamed Ali Bin Ahmad, 55, and his wife, Asmah Binte Hassan, 53, by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports' (MCYS) Child Protection Service. Mohamed Ali and his wife, who have three kids of their own, have been under the foster parents programme since 2004. They have also been foster parents to three other children from various backgrounds, excluding Isaac.
Now, Isaac's biological mother has been released from prison and was repatriated to Malaysia on 1 July. Under Singapore immigration laws, Isaac -- who was born in Singapore but was "not a citizen at the time of birth" because his mother had illegally overstayed in Singapore at the time of her arrest -- was forcibly repatriated to Malaysia along with his mother.
However, the foster parents contend that since the biological mother has already put Isaac up for adoption in Johor, they would be the ideal parents to look after him.
The case, which has already seen appeal letters sent right up to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as well as Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, is understood to be legally complex. Ali's daughter, Nadiah Md Ali, told Yahoo! Singapore that her family had tried to adopt Isaac before his repatriation.
"We tried everything to adopt him but were told by MCYS that it was not possible as he was stateless and was instructed by ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) to apply for Malaysian citizenship," said the 29-year-old client service assistant.
Nadiah also revealed that they sought help from former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed who managed to help them, as well as former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo.
She added that a week after the General Elections, they also appealed to several community leaders including newly-elected Member of Parliament, Irene Ng.
She had followed up on their request in writing to ICA to apply for Isaac's Singapore citizenship, in the hope of stopping Isaac's repatriation. ICA replied on 31 May, saying that his application was still under consideration.
Looking back at the turn of events, Nadiah's father, Ali, a chauffeur, shared that his family were hopeful of adopting him after meeting a MCYS officer last year.
"On 12 November 2010, a MCYS officer informed us that Isaac's biological mother had informed MCYS that she does not want to keep him and had no objections to him being given up for adoption," he said.
"Furthermore, the mother's relatives, too, did not wish to take care and raise Isaac. We were also informed that since the mother especially did not want him and had approved his adoption, we will stand a very good chance of being able to adopt him," he added.
"The MCYS officer told us that we will be given first priority if Isaac is to be given up for adoption. We were elated and most hopeful. Sadly, on 7 December 2010, the same officers paid us another visit to inform us that we have to be prepared for Isaac to be taken away on short notice."
Ali was told that although Isaac's biological mother did not want him, the child would nevertheless be given to her and brought across the border into Malaysia.
However, Isaac's foster family remained hopeful of stopping his repatriation as they sought help from Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong last week.
Recalling the sequence of events, Nadiah, said that Mr Goh helped to arrange a temporary stay of all actions against the repatriation of Isaac on 29 June.
The family then wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after MCYS informed them to hand over Isaac on 1 July.
However, we were later told that the appeal letter was sent to MCYS and we will have to work with them, said Nadiah, who accompanied her mother to MCYS that morning as the child protector had requested to see Isaac.
"We were shocked and numb when we heard that as they didn't manage to do anything," she said, before adding that MCYS officers later took Isaac from their house that same morning.
However, at 2.15pm, Nadiah and her mother were in for another shock when MCYS officers told them that Isaac was being prepared to be repatriated and was at ICA.
"We rushed there to meet him, and when we arrived at the ICA cafeteria, he was having his meal accompanied by an MCYS officer," she said.
"He was so happy and relieved to see us. He took photos with us and even asked my sister to head home with him."
Describing the last moments with Isaac before MCYS officers took him away, she said, "It was very sudden and it happened very fast when the officer said he had to leave. Isaac turned to my mum and asked if she or someone else could accompany him."
"I kept telling him that we couldn't follow him, but he kept saying he didn't want to go and held onto my mum."
An officer later grabbed Isaac from her while he continued to shout, 'please don't let me go, please take me back'. In a matter of seconds, he was gone, she added.
Watch what happened here.
MCYS addresses concerns
In a statement issued by MCYS, it said that in accordance with Singapore laws, the child is not a Singapore citizen by birth. His citizenship status follows that of his mother, who is a Malaysian. Upon his mother's discharge from prison, both she and her child would have to return to Malaysia.
It added that the foster parents were told of this from the onset and they signed an agreement indicating they understood that the child would not be placed out for adoption in Singapore, and that all information pertaining to the child should be kept confidential.
MCYS said that on the agreed date and time, the foster parents did not release the child. Recognising the feelings of the foster parents, MCYS officers gave the foster family more time and continued to engage them.
"They eventually agreed to cooperate, and the child has since returned to Malaysia. At no point was physical force used to remove the child from the foster parents," MCYS clarified.
The ministry highlighted that the mother has the parental rights to the child and prior to her return to Malaysia, had indicated her desire to continue caring for her child.
The Malaysian Social Welfare Department will work with the mother on the care arrangements for the child.
Family turns to social media
A Facebook page has been set up with the hope of seeking help to reunite Isaac with his foster parents.
The page called 'Please help Mohamed Isaac and his foster family' was set up on Saturday afternoon by a family friend and has garnered over 1,000 'likes', with many posting words of support and encouragement to the family.
Wrote Norhidayah Hid, "My prayers are with you and family. Be strong and never give up this fight to get him back. Nothing is impossible."
Added Nuriy Nawarrah Yuslim, "My heart goes out to you and your family. I am really saddened and can feel your pain and your mum, Madam Asmah, as I am a mother too. I know how it feels to be separated. When I watched the videos of Mohamed, I was truly devastated and cried."
Foster family hoping for reunion
It has been a difficult moment for Nadiah and her family since Isaac's repatriation last Friday.
"My mum has not slept and eaten since he was taken away. Every corner of our house reminds us of him. All his clothes and toys are still here," said Nadiah.
"After trying to contact MCYS to find out if Isaac was safely repatriated, they finally told us that he was handed over to a welfare department in JB after his biological mother signed the papers."
She added that MCYS gave her family's details to the JB welfare department and they will contact us should anything happen to him.
Yahoo! Singapore spoke to the Johor State Social Welfare Department to enquire about the status of Isaac and his mother but referred to Miss Hayati at the Johor District Welfare Office. However, attempts to contact her was unsuccessful.
As for now, Isaac's foster parents are seeking legal advice.