KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 5 — Several United Nations (UN) experts criticised Malaysia’s Court of Appeal today for reversing a decision giving Malaysian women the same rights as men to automatically confer citizenship to their children born abroad to foreign spouses.
In a joint statement, they said the ruling contravened Malaysia’s obligations under international law and the need to interpret all constitutional provisions concerning citizenship, and its transference, without discrimination based on sex.
“Denying Malaysian mothers the ability to pass on citizenship to their children has far-reaching negative impacts on children’s rights to education, health care and freedom of movement as well as their social lives and identities.
“When children of Malaysian descent are banned from being part of society based on a discriminatory interpretation of the law, it does not only negatively impact them, but the community and State lose the opportunity to thrive socially, politically and economically,” the experts said.
The group included Melissa Upreti (chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (vice-chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane from the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons Siobhán Mullally; UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery Tomoya Obokata; and Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Felipe González Morales.
They added that statelessness and denial of equal access to citizenship increased the risks of exploitation, including trafficking in persons, child trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery.
“We regret that the Malaysian government is responsible for this setback instead of seizing an opportunity to make progress towards the realisation of gender equality.
“We call on the government to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child by interpreting the law to ensure there is no contradiction between Article 14(1)b and Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, as amended by Parliament to prohibit discrimination against citizens based on descent, place of birth or gender in any law,” they said.
On August 5, the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court decision from the month before in favour of six Malaysian mothers, recognising that Malaysia’s citizenship laws discriminated against women and ruling that Malaysian mothers whose children are born overseas should also be entitled to Malaysian citizenship.