Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refer to the statements made by Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin on 13 and 15 July 2022 where he warned the rakyat to register their marriages to ensure their children are not denied citizenship.
This is an ignorant, callous and inhumane attempt by the home minister to shift the burden of ensuring that those entitled get their citizenship to the public. Essentially, the home minister is punishing innocent children for a bureaucratic and red-tape problem like non-registration of marriages.
On the contrary, it is the duty of government to ensure that every qualified person is registered as a citizen and is not denied citizenship for petty bureaucratic reasons. It is plainly unlawful and contrary to the Constitution to deny citizenship to a child born to at least one parent who is a Malaysian simply because the marriage was not registered.
Let us be clear about this. For every child who is entitled to citizenship but remains stateless, the fault lies upon the Ministry of Home Affairs and not the parents. It is the duty of government to ensure that every qualified person is registered as a citizen and given the necessary identification papers. This is the reason we pay taxes and the ministry is given such massive resources nationwide.
Yet, the massive failures of successive governments over decades have led to hundreds of thousands of stateless persons in Malaysia who are entitled to citizenship. Aside from the human suffering endured by the stateless, it also deprives the country of a huge section of citizens who could contribute to the economy and nation-building. Instead, they are relegated to the fringes of society. Hamzah Zainudin and his ministry’s approach now perpetuates and worsens the problem.
Hamzah must also understand that Article 14 of the Federal Constitution guarantees citizenship for those who meet the criteria under Part II of the Second Schedule. It is a right, not a privilege to be ‘awarded’ at the discretion of the government, as claimed by Hamzah.
LfL reiterates that issues of marriage registration are an administrative problem at most and can be easily rectified. It can never be the reason why children should be deprived of citizenship, as the effects are catastrophic for them. They will be barred from access to healthcare and education, and have difficulty gaining employment.
Instead of blaming the public, the home minister should ensure that registration of marriages be eased and that any issues that arise be resolved swiftly. Proper guidelines should be in place so that the correct information can be accessed by members of the public.
LfL urges the home minister to look at the standard operating procedures and guidelines in the National Registration Department and ensure that they comply with the Constitution and abide with the latest court decisions on issues of citizenship, and not just irresponsibly pass the buck to the public. – LfL
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty