Picture Taken From World Dakkam
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) together with 37 other undersigned civil society organizations express grave concern at Deputy Home Minister YB Dato’ Sri Dr. Ismail Mohamed Said’s statement regarding the inability of Malaysian women to confer nationality onto their overseas-born child. In his explanation, the Minister cited the issue of dual-citizenship, which he linked to national security and sovereignty.
Gender-Bias in The Law & Implementation
The ‘dual citizenship’ narrative in relation to Malaysian mothers giving birth overseas is flawed and biased. Contrary to the Minister’s statement that, in other countries, most children follow their fathers’ citizenship, more than 150 countries worldwide allow women–on an equal basis to men–to confer citizenship on their children. Malaysia is currently one of only 25 countries in the world that do not grant women equal rights to do so. Indeed, Article 8(2) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender. In light of this, Malaysian mothers who deliver their children abroad must be conferred the same rights as that Malaysian fathers.
The ‘dual citizenship’ argument is also untenable because children born overseas to Malaysian fathers (married to non-Malaysian women), or children born in Malaysia where either parent is Malaysian (with a valid marriage registration), may very likely have inherited citizenship from both parents, thereby making them dual citizens. It is only the children born abroad to Malaysian mothers who are discriminated against and do not receive Malaysian citizenship (unless through an uncertain and cumbersome application process).
Burdensome Administrative Processes
The Minister also said that an application for Malaysian citizenship could be made under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution if the child has yet to be granted citizenship from the foreign father. However, the Home Ministry has not taken measures to ensure that applications under this provision are streamlined. Based on reports from mothers interviewed by the Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG), the process is arduous, has no
fixed time frame, and the rejections come (some after 2-3 years) with no reasons provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, despite applicants meeting the requirements as stated. Thus, the process currently in place unfairly and disproportionately burdens Malaysian mothers who wish to confer citizenship unto their children born abroad.
In many cases where the Malaysian mother wants to return to Malaysia upon giving birth to the child, the child is forced to take on a foreign passport as they are not issued a Surat Perakuan Cemas to return with the family. This is a catch-22 situation, as the child is then considered a foreign national and authorities are less inclined to recognize the child as a Malaysian citizen.
Waiting overseas until the child is issued Malaysian citizenship under Article 15(2) leaves the child with an uncertain and extremely precarious legal status in the foreign country, with difficulty in accessing even basic services like healthcare and education. During this time, a child is left at risk of violence and is left wholly unprotected
Gendered Impact on Malaysian Families
Discrimination against women in terms of citizenship puts women and children in precarious situations, especially in times of crises as seen during COVID-19. For the families living in Malaysia, their non-citizen children face unequal access to education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and social protection.
Due to their children’s non-citizen status, some Malaysian women are forced to remain in toxic or abusive marriages overseas and continue to depend on their foreign husbands for the legal status needs of their children (e.g. passport renewals). Thus, some women choose to remain in high-risk countries instead of repatriating to ensure greater legal security for the child.
We urge the Government to recognize citizenship as a right and not a privilege, and that citizenship should be granted to every child, whose either parent or adopted parent is a Malaysian, irrespective of the marital status of the parents, gender of the Malaysian parent, or place of birth of the child.
The Home Ministry’s willingness to engage with NGOs and the public is a positive way forward, and we welcome any opportunity to work with the Ministry on proper measures to address the challenges faced by Malaysian women and children subjected to this ruling.