Malaysian mums file constitutional challenge against alleged gender bias in country’s citizenship law

An aerial view of the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 23, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
An aerial view of the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 23, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 — A non-profit group along with six Malaysian mothers today filed a constitutional challenge with the High Court in seeking a declaration that Malaysian mothers married to foreign spouses are able to automatically confer citizenship for their children born overseas.

In a press statement today, The Association of Family Support and Welfare Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers), an umbrella body for the Foreign Spouses Support Group that support and advocates for the rights of foreign spouses married to Malaysian citizens, said the constitutional challenge is to seek precedence that upholds principles of equality, international conventions to which Malaysia is a signatory, and the Federal Constitution.

“For over 60 years, many families have suffered as a result of long and arduous application processes under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution.

“These discretionary applications can take years and frequently end in rejection with no reason given. Moreover, applicants are often forced to apply multiple times, leading to prolonged hardships where they have limited access to a range of fundamental rights such as healthcare, education, and social protections,” said the group in a statement.

Under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution, an application for Malaysian citizenship could be made for a child if they have yet to be granted citizenship according to the foreign father’s nationality however Malaysia also does not recognise dual citizenship.

 

 

Family Frontiers had also stated that Malaysia remains among 25 countries worldwide that do not grant women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis as men.

“International human rights law is clear in its prohibition of gender-based discrimination and views nationality as a fundamental right. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) — both of which Malaysia is party to — exemplify the steps that have been taken by the global community to ensure equality, progress, and justice for all members of society,’’ said the statement.

Malaysia ratified both UN conventions in 1995.

This comes as according to Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said earlier this month, children born overseas to Malaysian women married to foreign spouses do not automatically become Malaysian citizens, claiming this was to avoid their child from becoming a citizen of two countries.

Ismail had claimed that this was the same in other countries where children born overseas follow their father’s nationality, before going on to say that this is linked to national security and sovereignty.

In response, 38 groups from Malaysian civil society said instead of being a national threat, Malaysian women and their children born overseas are actually exposed to unfair and unequal treatment due to the discrimination in Malaysia’s nationality laws, with such mothers are also forced to stay in abusive marriages abroad for the sake of their child instead of freely returning to Malaysia.

The groups then indicated this dual citizenship argument was only being used to justify the denial of automatic citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian women.

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