Saifuddin’s new claim that citizenship amendments are necessary to prevent Rohingya babies from becoming citizens is baseless

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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By N Surendran 

I refer to Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s statement on 17 March in which he justified the controversial citizenship amendments affecting abandoned babies and stateless persons by claiming that the Rohingya were giving birth in hospitals and “they ran away”.

He also claimed that if an infant does not have an umbilical cord, it is not an abandoned baby.

Saifuddin’s excuses are unlawful, irrational, inhumane and impractical. The minister appears to treat abandoned babies like some kind of national security threat or a dangerous enemy.

In recent months, the ministry’s arguments in support of the much-criticised amendments have become increasingly bizzare and far-fetched.

As the Constitution stands now, Section 1(a) and 1(e) of Part 1 of the 2nd Schedule read with Section 19B ensure that an abandoned newborn child gets Malaysian citizenship.

This is both sound law and sound practical sense. Where else can an abandoned child found anywhere in Malaysia go? The infant must live here and be a citizen of this country. Every civilised country in the world has similar provisions in their law.

Saifuddin and his ministry now propose to repeal Sections 1(e) and 19B, deprive abandoned babies of any right to citizenship and throw them at the mercy of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is notorious for rejecting citizenship applications or delaying it for years. Thousands of qualified adult stateless Malaysians will also be denied.

Saifuddin’s complaint that a child abandoned by Rohingya will, because of the current provisions, get Malaysian citizenship is baseless and displays ignorance of how the constitutional provisions operate.

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Simply put, if the identity of the parents is known to be Rohingya, the child will anyway not qualify for Malaysian citizenship under the current provisions. Courts have been strict about this.

If, on the other hand, the identities of the parents are not known, the abandoned child will be presumed to be Malaysian. This is both good law and good sense.

The humane thing to do with an abandoned child whose origins are not traceable is to give him or her Malaysian citizenship. To do otherwise will be to hurl the child into an existence in the margins of society, which is cruel and of no benefit to the country’s economy or interests.

Saifuddin’s proposed amendments will do exactly this. It will throw thousands of stateless children into an existence in the gutters, bereft of the educational and employment benefits which citizenship brings. It will create a new generation of stateless persons in Malaysia.

More untenable and bizzare is Saifuddin’s claim that if a child does not have an umbilical cord it is not considered an abandoned child. There is no provision of the Constitution or any other law that says this.

This appears to be a criterion imposed at the whims of the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is a misstatement of the law, which the minister has no right to make. This kind of thinking also reflects the mindset of the ministry, which appears to be to exclude foundlings and children from the granting of citizenship.

It confirms that if the automatic provisions in Section 1(e) and Section 19B are repealed, and this power is transferred to the discretion of Ministry of Home Affairs, it will result in the rejection or delay of thousands upon thousands of applications and in the creation of a new class of stateless persons.

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It is not too late to step back from the brink. It is not too late to withdraw these amendments and proceed only with the amendments related to the problem of children born to overseas Malaysian mothers.

To do otherwise would impose untold suffering upon innocents.

N Surendran is an adviser to Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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