What is women minister doing over Malaysia’s discrimination of Malaysian mothers in citizenship laws, ex-deputy ministers Hannah Yeoh, Azis ask

Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh speaks to reporters at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh speaks to reporters at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 — Two former deputy ministers today asked Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun what role she has played to help Malaysian women facing gender discrimination under the country’s existing citizenship laws.

In the joint statement, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh and Sepanggar MP Datuk Mohd Azis Jamman suggested that the Perikatan Nasional administration was not caring as it had allegedly failed to uphold issues related to the family institution.

The two Opposition MPs were referring to a lawsuit filed by Family Frontiers and six Malaysian mothers to challenge provisions in the Federal Constitution that discriminates Malaysian women in citizenship laws. 

(Under those constitutional provisions, Malaysian fathers can pass on their Malaysian citizenship to their children born abroad, which would result in those children automatically being Malaysians. The same laws however do not give the same treatment to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses and with children born abroad, with the mothers having to apply for Malaysian citizenship for these children with no guarantee of being approved and with years of waiting for responses with possible repeated rejections. This is despite the Federal Constitution’s Article 8(2) disallowing gender discrimination against Malaysians.)

The two MPs also referred to how the PNl government had in the lawsuit reportedly argued that the lawsuit was scandalous, frivolous and vexatious when asking for the court case to be struck out.

“We had expected that as a caring government, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister (KPWKM) would immediately step forward to defend the demands of these mothers, in line with the cause of the ministry that is under her.

“But until now, we are still wondering where is her voice after demands on the issue of inequality in conferring of Malaysian citizenship was raised?

“If compared to KPWKM under Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah’s administration, she would without delay write a letter to the Home Ministry, meet with the home minister and be proactive in carrying out engagement with the Home Ministry in line with her care to defend their fate,” the two MPs wrote in the statement.

They were referring to former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who was Rina’s predecessor as women, family and community development minister. Yeoh was deputy minister in the women, family and community development ministry.

Azis was formerly the deputy home minister during the Pakatan Harapan administration.

In the same statement, the two former deputy ministers said that the Perikatan Nasional government which claimed to be caring should have supported groups such as Family Frontiers in tackling the issue of discrimination against women under citizenship laws, but again suggested that the PN administration had failed.

“The struggle to obtain citizenship rights for children is important and necessary and is a basic duty of a government that is caring, further it is far from ‘menyusahkan dan remeh’ (troublesome and frivolous) as claimed.

“Naming itself as a Kerajaan Prihatin (caring government) is not sufficient without being followed by actions and policies that reflect such a name. If the Perikatan Nasional government is not prepared to dive into this struggle, make way for those who are qualified and ready to roll up their sleeves to do it,” the duo said.

Members of Family Frontiers hold up placards demanding equal citizenship rights for Malaysians at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Members of Family Frontiers hold up placards demanding equal citizenship rights for Malaysians at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Separately, Joshua Andran, a lawyer for the six Malaysian mothers and Family Frontiers, yesterday told Malay Mail that the court case “is actually a case where the government and the plaintiffs should be on the same side”.

While noting that the legal and constitutional arguments in such a court case can be complex, he said the Malaysian mothers’ lawsuit was ultimately to seek “equality” between Malaysian men and women on the issue of citizenship of their children.

“Discrimination against women cannot, and should not, be allowed to continue. It is embarrassing that this is still happening in 2021. 

“This form of discrimination has a real and tragic effect on the family unit as parents are often separated from their children. And this is only made worse but the Covid-19 pandemic and MCOs which restrict movement and travel,” he said of how denial of automatic Malaysian citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian women with foreign spouses was affecting families.

“So many of us are fortunate because we do not experience or feel the same pain as these affected families but that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the plight of these families or take a cavalier approach to this genuine problem simply because it does not directly affect our interest. 

“Let’s not forget that continued discrimination against women means discrimination against about 50 per cent of Malaysia’s population, many of whom have served and sacrificed for the family unit, for society as a whole and for even for this country. Every single human being owes his/her existence to a woman. Continued discrimination is certainly not the way to honour them,” he added.

Members of Family Frontiers and the affected Malaysian mothers are seen holding placards to say that their children should also have the right to be Malaysian citizens, April 27, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Members of Family Frontiers and the affected Malaysian mothers are seen holding placards to say that their children should also have the right to be Malaysian citizens, April 27, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Yesterday, Family Frontiers in a statement noted the “desperate, dire situations” that Malaysian mothers with foreigner husbands face when it comes to applying for Malaysian citizenship for their children born outside of Malaysia.

Since the Federal Constitution does not grant their overseas-born children automatic Malaysian citizenship, such Malaysian mothers have had to resort to applying for citizenship under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution which involves a long and arduous process.

Under Article 15(2), the federal government may register anyone below the age of 21 — if at least one of their parents is a Malaysian — as a Malaysian citizen upon application by the person’s parent or guardian.

“Some mothers have been waiting for 16 years for their children to be granted citizenship, to the point where some children have passed the eligible age to apply through Article 15(2),” Family Frontiers said of some Malaysian mothers’ children who turned 21 while waiting for years for Malaysia to recognise them as citizens.

Based on information provided by Family Frontiers to Malay Mail, the Home Ministry had in a March 20, 2019 written parliamentary reply said the National Registration Department had received 4,112 citizenship applications under Article 15(2) from 2013 to February 15, 2018, and had in Hansard records on October 9, 2019 said it had approved 142 citizenship applications under Article 15(2) for the entire 2013 to 2018 period.

Citizenship which hinges on whether children are born outside of Malaysia or inside Malaysia to Malaysian mothers have resulted in families where some children are non-citizens but their siblings are Malaysian citizens.

“Their plight has been further escalated by the Covid-19 pandemic —- children cannot come to Malaysia to be with their mother, nor can their mother be with them,” Family Frontiers had said in explaining why the lawsuit was necessary.

The High Court is expected to deliver its decision on May 6 on whether it would strike out the lawsuit at this stage, or if it would proceed to hear the lawsuit in full on its merits and on substantive issues.

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