Report: Gender bias remains in Malaysian citizenship laws

While the constitution guarantees that Malaysian fathers can pass their nationality to children, even to those born abroad, mothers must apply for the same via a process that could leave foreign-born children in limbo for years. — Foto Bernama
While the constitution guarantees that Malaysian fathers can pass their nationality to children, even to those born abroad, mothers must apply for the same via a process that could leave foreign-born children in limbo for years. — Foto Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — Malaysia is one of two Southeast Asian countries that discriminate by gender in their citizenship laws, The Economist said in a report today.

While the constitution guarantees that Malaysian fathers can pass their nationality to children, even to those born abroad, mothers must apply for the same via a process that could leave foreign-born children in limbo for years. 

“Malaysia is one of 25 countries that restricts their women from conferring their nationality to their children, and is one of roughly 50 that limit them from passing it to foreign spouses. 

“Still more unusually, Malaysia discriminates against some fathers, too—it is one of three countries that prevent men from passing citizenship on to their children born outside marriage,” the report said.

Between 2012 and 2017, more than 15,000 children born in Malaysia to Malaysian fathers were denied citizenship.

Gender discriminatory laws are considered outdated as most countries had started to amend nationality provisions that varied according to sex some sixty years ago.

Since 2000, more than 20 countries with such laws — from Kenya and Yemen to Morocco and Zimbabwe — have reformed them. 

According to the article published today, of the ten Asean countries, Malaysia and Brunei are the only two with gender discrimination in their citizenship rules, while other holdouts are mostly in Africa and the Middle East. 

New York-based Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights’s Catherine Harrington said that it is xenophobia and a patriarchal mindset that has prevented the change. 

Such discriminatory citizenship laws are also contributing to the number of stateless children as complications arise

On paper, Malaysia has safeguards against statelessness, but in practice “citizenship is treated as a privilege, not a birthright,” said Yayasan Chow Kit co-founder Hartini Zainudin.

The Pakatan Harapan government has promised to review laws that discriminate against women, but the political will remains uncertain.

While some like Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh have called for amendments to be made, others in the Cabinet have resisted.

The Federal Constitution also has contradictory provisions on the matter.

“One article guarantees ‘no discrimination against citizens’ on the basis of gender, but another discriminates against married women and single men over nationality,” said the article.

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