Groups want end to gender discrimination in nationality laws

Foreign Spouse Support Group (FSSG) coordinator Bina Ramanand said the discrimination would essentially victimise the children involved. — Picture by Razak Ghazali
Foreign Spouse Support Group (FSSG) coordinator Bina Ramanand said the discrimination would essentially victimise the children involved. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — The government is urged to end gender discrimination by reforming Malaysia’s citizenship laws to ensure both men and women can achieve equal rights for nationality.

A coalition of over 20 civil groups is seeking to eliminate discrepancies in Article 14 and 15 of the Federal Constitution which allow gender-based discrimination to occur.

Among them, Malaysian fathers with children born abroad can apply for their children’s citizenship at the high commission in the country where they are currently residing.

However, Malaysian mothers in a similar scenario are required to return to Malaysia to make the application.

Foreign Spouse Support Group (FSSG) coordinator Bina Ramanand said the discrimination would essentially victimise the children involved and subsequently hinder their access to education, healthcare and job opportunity.

“Article 8(1) and 8(2) of the Federal Constitution which promote equality is undermined by the prevalence of gender discrimination in nationality laws.

“Therefore, law reforms are needed to uphold equal nationality rights for Malaysian women and men.

“Either male or female Malaysian parent should be able to acquire citizenship for their child, irrespective of where the child was born, for instance,” she told a press conference at Swiss Garden Hotel here today.

Bina said numerous case studies showed that mothers also continuously fail to request for citizenship due to undisclosed reasons.

“The cycle then just goes on. It is not fair when the same procedure is not made compulsory for fathers,” she said.

Another form of gender discrimination can also be seen in cases involving foreign spouses.

Currently, a Malaysian man can apply for citizenship for his foreign spouse after two years of permanent residence, while a Malaysian woman can only make the same application for her foreign spouse through the naturalisation process.

This means, the foreign male spouse would have to be a Malaysian resident of 10 years as pre-requisite to apply for citizenship.

Datuk Sri M. Ramachelvam speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2018. — Picture by Razak Ghazali
Datuk Sri M. Ramachelvam speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2018. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

Bar Council’s Institutional and Law Reform Committee chairman Datuk Seri M. Ramachelvam said the only way for the government to ensure justice, without having to make constitutional amendments is by streamlining the citizenship application process.

“Great discretionary power is given to the home minister in granting citizenship. This cannot go on. There must be a clear-cut mechanism.

“It has to be in black and white. First, you explain the process with a checklist of documents to include, then you set a timeframe and adhere to it and lastly you set up an appeal process within the system.

“Reasons for rejection must also be given so that the applicant is well-informed and spared from a long-winded legal process that could take up tens of years,” he said.

The coalition is also seeking for the government to grant citizenship to children when either parent is a Malaysian, notwithstanding the marital status of the parent and regardless of their birth place.

These are three of the 13 recommendations that the coalition will be submitting to the government tomorrow, with the assistance of Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality spokeswoman Ivy Josiah said she acknowledged that the government may need time to make the changes happen. — Picture by Razak Ghazali
Joint Action Group for Gender Equality spokeswoman Ivy Josiah said she acknowledged that the government may need time to make the changes happen. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality spokeswoman Ivy Josiah said she acknowledged that the government may need time to make the changes happen but expressed hope that they will reiterate their commitment towards achieving equality for all.

“We know it cannot happen within the first 100 days in power. We have to be realistic because we are trying to undo a culture.

“But the civil society comprised of very patient people, we just want a show of that political will, that is all,” she said.

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