Family Frontiers: Putrajaya’s appeal of citizenship ruling ‘baffling’

Members of Family Frontiers hold up placards demanding equal citizenship rights for Malaysians outside the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur September 23, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Members of Family Frontiers hold up placards demanding equal citizenship rights for Malaysians outside the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur September 23, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 — Welfare association Family Frontiers has challenged the government’s reason for continuing its appeal against the High Court decision granting automatic citizenship to children born abroad to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses.

In a statement today, Family Frontiers said it was deeply disappointed by the government's move, which was announced by Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin yesterday, and called it “baffling”.

“The government continues to take a stance that its women citizens are second-class citizens; by continuing to appeal, the government sends a message that it is in favour of continued discrimination and marginalisation of Malaysian mothers and their non-citizen children,” it said.

Yesterday, Hamzah said that in making its decision, the Cabinet had considered the existence of two different court case judgments regarding the interpretation of the term “father” in the Second Schedule Part II Section 1(b) and 1(c) of the Federal Constitution.

These were the case of Family Frontiers president Suriani Kempe and six others against the Malaysian government, and the case of Mahisha Sulaiha Abdul Majeed against the Director-General of National Registration along with two others.

It was reported that in the case of Mahisha Sulaiha which was decided by the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on May 21, 2020, the ruling was made in favour of the government, although this was later appealed by Mahisha at the Court of Appeal and the case is still ongoing.

Meanwhile, in the case of Suriani Kempe and six others versus the government, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur did not rule in favour of the government; instead ruling that babies born overseas to Malaysian women who are married to foreigners are automatically entitled to Malaysian citizenship — on an equal basis as Malaysian men.

However, Family Frontiers stressed that two cases did not deal with the same matter.

“In the public interest case brought by Family Frontiers and six mothers, Judge Datuk Akthar Tahir Datuk Akhtar Tahir’s decision resolved the apparent discrimination between two provisions — Article 8(2) and Article 14(1)(b) together with the Second Schedule, Part II, Section 1(b) of the Federal Constitution — by applying the harmonious and purposive approach of interpretation.

“The result of this interpretation was that the children of Malaysian women who are citizens were entitled to be included in the Second Schedule provisions,” it said.

The group asserted that the case of Mahisha Suhaila Abdul Majeed versus the National Registration Department director and two others does not deal with reconciling the two provisions in the constitution.

“This must also be the reason why the Attorney General’s Chambers did not refer to this case during their submissions before Akhtar. After all, if it was indeed in their favour, they would most certainly have raised this case.

“It is also important to note that judge Mariani Yahya, a member of the Court of Appeal panel who decided the Mahisha case, also sat in on the hearing of the appeal by the government against the high court’s decision disallowing Family Frontiers’ case to be struck out.

“The panel said that there was merit in the argument by Family Frontiers to warrant a full hearing of the merits of the case by the High Court Judge Datuk Akhtar Tahir,” the group said.

Family Frontiers, which is alternatively known as the The Association of Family Support and Welfare Selangor & KL, also questioned if Hamzah had sought the commitment of MPs for the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Federal Constitution.

This was in response to Hamzah's statement that the government’s appeal against the court ruling is to buy time while it looks into constitutional amendment, which he said would make it easier for Malaysian mothers married to foreigners to give birth overseas.

“He has not provided any certainty or time frame for the amendment while in the meantime no remedy is offered to the women whom his Ministry have rejected without reasons being given.

“Statistics from the Parliament Hansard showed 98 per cent of the citizenship applications submitted by these mothers between 2013 and 2018 were rejected, depriving their children of their basic fundamental rights.

“These are applications that Malaysian mothers are forced to make because they have been deprived of their right to automatically pass on citizenship to their overseas-born children,” it said. 

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