KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 — Mashithah Abdul Halim was heartbroken today after the Court of Appeal ruling that has set back her years-long effort and that of other Malaysian mothers in their quest to get Malaysian citizenship for their overseas-born children.
In a statement issued after the 2-1 decision this morning, Mashithah said the ruling “ripped my heart out as a woman and a mother”.
“It smears the dignity of Malaysian women who should be on equal standing as men. Are we women so worthless in the eyes of the country that our children are punished just because they weren’t born here?” she said.
Under Malaysia’s citizenship laws in the Federal Constitution, Malaysian men who marry foreigners would see their children born overseas automatically entitled to Malaysian citizenship.
For Malaysian women who marry foreigners, the children that they give birth to overseas are not automatically entitled to be Malaysians, and would have to go through a long process of applying for citizenship which the Malaysian government can take years to decide on and can even reject.
If the Malaysian mothers gave birth to their children in Malaysia, the children would automatically be entitled to be Malaysians.
Another affected mother, Adlyn Adam Teoh questioned the Malaysian government’s different approaches towards its male and female citizens.
“Why doesn’t our government protect all of its citizens, both men and women? Why the bias towards women citizens? The reality is that the current interpretation of the law and associated policies bring hardship to each family.
“And remember, we are Malaysian, and proudly so. We will continue to seek to end this discrimination against half of our population, against the daughters of Malaysia,” she asked.
Teoh is one of the six Malaysian mothers who sued the government for refusing to confer Malaysian citizenship on their overseas-born children.
Earlier today, the Court of Appeal in a majority decision decided in favour of the Malaysian government, and set aside the High Court’s September 2021 decision which had been in favour of the six Malaysian mothers and Family Frontiers.
On September 9, 2021, the High Court ruled that Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children are entitled to be Malaysian citizens under the law, and ordered the Malaysian authorities to issue citizenship documents to these overseas-born children.
After the Court of Appeal’s decision today which overturned the High Court ruling enabling Malaysian mothers to pass on their citizenship to their overseas-born children, Family Frontiers expressed its disappointment at the legal setback but said the fight for the safety and wellbeing of the children would go on.
Suriani Kempe, president of Family Frontiers, said Malaysian mothers will not give up their belief that the Malaysian government would one day treat Malaysian women equally like Malaysian men.
“Today’s decision is extremely disappointing, more so that our lives and the lives of our children continue to be affected by this devastating interpretation of the Federal Constitution that perpetuates gender discrimination. This is indeed a setback, but we will not be deterred.
“We will appeal this decision at the Federal Court, and continue to hold faith in our justice system. We stand firm in the belief that one day our Government will see us, Malaysian women, as we see ourselves—as equal citizens, and that our children have just as much a right to be Malaysian as the children of Malaysian men,” she said in a statement.
Family Frontiers said it was both “disheartening and dehumanising” for Malaysian mothers to be unable to pass on their citizenship to their children, simply because of the mothers’ gender.
“Women and children are forced to endure prolonged hardships, including being trapped in abusive situations and facing unequal access to fundamental rights,” it said.
Family Frontiers also said the Malaysian government must now honour its promise to instantly remedy this injustice to Malaysia mothers and their children, since the government had already committed to amend the citizenship requirements in the Federal Constitution by July 2022.
“Furthermore, we call on the Government to comply its international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),” it added.
Patricia Low, another Malaysian mother who has been affected by the discriminatory citizenship laws, also expressed her disappointment.
“We are disappointed with the outcome, as this will impact many Malaysian women and their overseas-born children, who have been deprived of stability and access to basic rights such as healthcare and education.
“They have suffered for years, and Malaysian women as a whole have suffered for decades as a result of this discriminatory laws. This is a pressing matter that affects real lives; the wellbeing, and futures of our children; and as such we will continue to fight until there is justice,” she said.