Illustration by Sunita
“The Malaysian government has to end the suffering of many mothers and children who are impacted by the gender-discriminatory nationality law. It’s tragic to see that they repeatedly choose to turn a blind eye towards how families are being torn apart by this discrimination. Please do the right thing and treat Malaysian men and women equally. Let us nurture the future generations of Malaysians, here in a place where we called home.”– Rachel Ng, A Mother Fighting for Her Son’s Citizenship
It all started in 2008 when I moved to the UK. I found love and married an Irish citizen in March 2012. Honestly, I was pretty naïve at that time and didn’t think much of what would become one of the greatest, saddest, and most tiring battles of my life – my marriage registration, my children’s citizenship, and becoming a PR in Malaysia.
It was April 2014 in the UK when I gave birth to my first child. So small. So precious. And it was then when I started to think of his future. Where would he live? How would we give it a place where he can call home and family?
In London, we didn’t have family support. All my family members live in Malaysia while my husband is estranged from his. I wanted my child to share the same family values as mine. I wanted him to be filled with love, joy, and laughter in a familiar, warm environment. These reasons were enough for me to decide that my child shall be a Malaysian citizen.
In February 2015, I registered our marriage with the London High Commission and submitted my child’s Malaysian citizenship application. I was told by the officer that the whole process would take 2 years. At that time, the 2-year timeframe sounded perfect to me as it would give us time to make plans to relocate back home before my child’s schooling age.
One year passed. My husband fell ill, and we had no family support in London. We decided it was time to move back to Malaysia where there will be support to raise our child, and where there will be help to let my husband focus on his recovery. We haven’t left Malaysia since that day.
Upon returning home to Malaysia, I contacted the London High Commission to inform them that I had moved so that they could update the contact address of my application. I have lost count of how many times I’ve called JPN Putrajaya just to get a status update. Each time I called, I would always receive the same, short answer – “pending”. When I asked how long it would take, I was told on the phone that it would take up to 6 years, contrary to the 2-year timeframe I was promised back in 2015.
In October 2020, I gave birth to my second child on Malaysian soil – my first child to hold a Malaysian citizenship. The first one? Still unwelcomed in Malaysia. This year my eldest turns 7, which strips his eligibility for a Long Term Social Visit Pass (LTSVP). The only way for him to continue staying in Malaysia is through a student pass. He is my child, my bloodline yet his ability to live in this country is tied to the school and not to his parent.
When it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, my marriage broke down towards the end of 2020. My husband and I decided to part ways. I became a single mother to my 2 children since then. We signed the divorce papers in April 2021 with me having full custody of both our children.
Now that I’m a single mother, my eldest child’s citizenship is even more important to me than before. To me, he is my flesh and blood. He has spent most of his time in Malaysia than in his birth country. He is learning the culture and language here, building relationships with his extended family and friends here. He barely has any memory or association with his birthplace – and yet, he is still being seen as a foreigner in this country. In the government’s eyes, my child is a piece of paper, to be shifted around or ignored, forever pending to be processed.
Not only does he have limited options when it comes to education, but he also has to pay double the cost on medical bills, insurance, or even local attractions just because the government doesn’t recognize the rights of a mother.
My biggest fear as a parent is that someday if I do pass on unexpectedly, my children will be separated due to their different nationalities, and the family bond will be cut off just because they were born in different countries, even though they were born to the same parents. It is every mother’s worst nightmare – siblings becoming strangers.
It is a long, painful, and strenuous battle for me. Before I found Family Frontiers, I felt so alone and isolated. I didn’t know who I could turn to for help. I am extremely grateful for the support I received from Family Frontiers. They inspired me to speak up, to fight for our rights as women in this country – not just for my child, but for all the women and future generations of Malaysia. These are the reasons why I created a Tiktok account to talk about the challenges mothers face with the gender-discriminatory nationality law.
I want our voices to be heard; I want people to know about the struggles we go through; I want the government to do the right thing – recognizing our children as Malaysians. Ultimately, they should not be treated any differently than the children born abroad to Malaysian fathers. The maternal bond is far more powerful and special than any other bond in the world, and having that bond denied by legislation is not only tragic but deeply saddening for entire families and nations.