Putrajaya’s discrimination in citizenship laws causing Malaysians’ children to be stateless, advocacy group says

Maalini Ramalo speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2018. — Picture by Razak Ghazali
Maalini Ramalo speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2018. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 4 — Malaysia’s gender discrimination in its citizenship laws is one of the main reasons why children born to Malaysians end up being stateless or not a citizen of any country in the world, the Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA) Malaysia said today.

The non-profit organisation DHRRA Malaysia, which has carried out extensive work helping stateless individuals in Peninsular Malaysia, said urgent action is needed by the government to avoid Malaysia turning into a country populated with stateless individuals.

Stressing that children who are born stateless is also a security issue that the government should address, DHRRA’s director of social protection Maalini Ramalo said that evidence collected in Malaysia shows that “gender discrimination in nationality laws is a root cause of childhood statelessness in Malaysia”.

Maalini said Malaysia is among the few countries in the world that discriminate against Malaysian women and men in different aspects of the country’s citizenship laws, even though Malaysians have the constitutional right to not be discriminated against based on their gender.

“Out of 205 countries in the world, 25 countries deny women the right to pass their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men and three countries discriminate against men in their ability to pass their nationality to their children born out of wedlock with Malaysia contributing to both the counts despite being contradictory to Article 8(2) of Federal Constitution of Malaysia that prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender,” she said in a statement today.

Maalini was weighing in on Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said’s statement in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that the Malaysian government cannot allow Malaysian mothers to pass on their nationality to their children born abroad to foreign spouses due to the purported threat to national security with the possibility of dual citizenship, and his claim that other countries have the practice where most children born overseas follow their father’s nationality.

Maalini said such a practice however needs to be immediately reviewed, especially due to cross-country marriages and a non-straightforward system to legalising marriage in Malaysia.

Acknowledging that children born to a Malaysian and a non-Malaysian may in theory have access to dual citizenship, Maalini noted the reality where there are actually many such children who are not a citizen of any country in the world.

“While dual citizenship provides the privilege of protection to children with parents of two nationalities, we must acknowledge that more children do not have access to any citizenship despite being born to at least one Malaysian parent, which renders them stateless,” she said, later adding that a child who is stateless is not given a choice to choose his or her citizenship.

“While the government’s concern on nationality security may be valid, a review must be carried out on the processes as the number of childhood statelessness is in the high rise.

“The action must be immediate or else we will be a nation populated with stateless persons,” she said.

Maalini said stateless children in Malaysia cannot be blamed for their status of not having citizenship in any country.

“It is important to recognise that stateless children in Malaysia are not stateless due to the fault of their own,” she said.

A MyKad identification card reader in use at a POS Malaysia outlet in Bangi October 15, 2018. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A MyKad identification card reader in use at a POS Malaysia outlet in Bangi October 15, 2018. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

What the Malaysian government can do

Maalini noted that there has yet to be heightened awareness and political will in Malaysia to solve the issue of stateless children, and suggested Malaysia introduce a statelessness determination procedure as a solution.

“Perhaps it’s time the government recognises the status of stateless children and implement Statelessness Determination Procedure (SDP) to determine if a person is stateless and provide him or her the right avenues to access nationality based on the strongest link established to Malaysia,” she said.

In the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) 10-year plan named Global Action Plan to End Statelessness 2014-2024, stateless determination procedures (SDPs) are explained as being a mechanism for countries to determine whether a person is stateless and which would then typically enable them to have a legal status to stay on legally in the country and to facilitate naturalisation by accumulating the necessary number of years of residence. The UNHCR said evidence has shown that having an SDP does not increase the migration of stateless persons to a country.

Based on a UNHCR Good Practices Paper issued in July 2020, about 20 countries worldwide have already established SDPs, including France, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Spain, Moldova, Georgia, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, UK, Kosovo, Turkey, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Montenegro, Paraguay, Panama, Argentina and Ukraine, while other countries such as Australia and the US have pledged to introduce SDPs.

In its statement today, DHRRA said it has had positive engagement with the Home Ministry over the years with several standard operating procedures addressed at the National Registration Department (NRD).

“Positive developments are also visible from the many straightforward pre-independence stateless cases being awarded citizenship to the most recent commitment of shortening of time of an application as well in the reasoning provided for rejected applications during Tan Sri Muhiyiddin’s tenure as the former Minister of Home Affairs,” she said, adding that DHRRA remains optimistic that the Home Ministry will continue to address gender discriminative practices in nationality issues.

Previously, news reports have shared the arduous process faced by Malaysians who apply for citizenship recognition for their biological or adopted children, with the government sometimes taking two or three years to reply to the applications and usually with no reasons given for rejections of the applications, while renewed or subsequent applications also face the same fate.

In December 2019, then home minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the ministry has improved the SOP for citizenship applications of individuals below age 21 to be conducted in a faster and fair manner unlike previously where it could take up to 10 years, with the timeline under the SOP from 2020 onwards to be three months and a half months at the NRD and eight months at the Home Ministry.

He had also said the updated SOP would now provide reasons for rejection of citizenship applications.

During the 2013 to 2018 period, the NRD reportedly recorded 111,142 citizenship applications with 26,222 of them rejected,while 54,222 were being processed including 27,835 applications under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution for children without citizenship.

Article 15A states that the federal government may register any children aged below 21 as Malaysian citizens in “such special circumstances as it thinks fit”, with applications on behalf of stateless children by their biological or adoptive parents often made through this constitutional provision.

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