Citizenship for children born to foreign spouses: Give women the same right

This court decision in fact presents a golden opportunity to the ‘new’ Ismail Sabri Yaakob-led government to show it can be progressive.

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Photograph: Geralt/Pixabay

Aliran lauds the efforts of Family Frontiers president Suri Kempe, six Malaysian women and their tenacious legal team who sought a court declaration that children born abroad to a Malaysian woman and her foreign spouse should enjoy equal rights as children born abroad to a Malaysian man and his foreign spouse.

Children born abroad to Malaysian men and their foreign spouses have for decades been accorded Malaysian citizenship automatically. But this entitlement, until the landmark court decision, did not apply to children born abroad to Malaysian women and their foreign spouses.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and relevant government agencies, such as the Immigration Department and the National Registration Department, have interpreted Article 14(1)(b), read together with Section 1(b) and 1(c), of the Federal Constitution, to mean that children born abroad to a Malaysian man and his foreign spouse are entitled to Malaysian citizenship but not children born abroad to a Malaysian woman and her foreign spouse. The authorities have zoomed in on the words “a Malaysian father”. 

However, the learned High Court judge Akhtar Tahir on 9 September ruled that the word “father” must be read to include mother and that their children are entitled to citizenship by operation of law. He ruled that the citizenship rights provisions in Article 14(1)(b), Section 1(b), Section 1(c) have to be read in harmony with Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which prohibits gender discrimination.

The landmark court decision is simply setting right an injustice that has been outstanding for far too long. It is a small step towards reducing gender discrimination and achieving gender equality in Malaysia. Note that up to 170 countries in the world give women the equal right to confer citizenship to their children born abroad on an equal basis as men.

READ MORE:  Why government should stop mistreating mothers of stateless children

This court decision in fact presents a golden opportunity to the ‘new’ Ismail Sabri Yaakob-led government to show it can be progressive and forward thinking.

The argument that the government needs to appeal the court decision as our country does not allow ‘dual citizenship’ misses the point. It simply highlights the traditional, outdated and male-dominated belief that a child must take up the citizenship of the father and not the mother.

This should not be the case. Just as a Malaysian father and his foreign spouse need to decide whether their children should become Malaysians or adopt another nationality, a Malaysian woman and her foreign spouse should be granted the same right. This is the only fair and right thing to do.

Upon learning that the government has decided to appeal the court decision, Family Frontiers launched an online petition urging the government to withdraw the appeal. The petition has so far collected over 25,000 signatures. Do listen to the voices of the rakyat.

Aliran strongly urges the government to withdraw its appeal against the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision on 9 September, which affirmed Malaysian women’s equal rights under the Federal Constitution.

Aliran executive committee
19 September 2021

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