01 Dec End Inequalities in Malaysian Nationality Laws
MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH
Member of Parliament
1 December 2020
End inequalities in Malaysian nationality laws
The statement made by the Deputy Home Minister Ismail Mohamed Said to disallow Malaysian women married to foreigners the right to confer citizenship to their own children showed his ignorance, an ill-thought out comment and total insensitivity towards the status of Malaysian women and children. His statement reaffirms the inequality that exists in our nationality laws with gender-discriminatory provisions that deny women with the same rights as men to pass nationality to a non-citizen spouse
and to their children by birth. Gender discrimination in nationality laws undermines women’s equal citizenship and results in wide-ranging rights violations and hardships for affected families, including obstacles in accessing education, healthcare, employment, family unity, freedom of movement, inheritance and property rights.
The Federal Constitution allows foreign spouses of Malaysian men citizenship by registration, if they fulfil several criteria, including residing in Malaysia for two years. However, foreign spouses of Malaysian women can only apply for citizenship by naturalisation, after residing in Malaysia for 10 years. The inequalities in our laws are stark and it is time to amend our laws to eliminate discrimination and heartbreak in families. In a democracy based on rule-of-law, all citizens must be treated as equal before the law and, thus, be given equal right to confer nationality on their children and spouses, regardless of gender. Research also showed that gender discrimination in nationality laws is also a primary cause of statelessness, and is linked with gender-based violence. In the wake of the
COVID-19 pandemic, gender discrimination in nationality laws is exacerbating the vulnerability of affected families.
Malaysia’s discriminatory nationality law conflicts with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), both of which Malaysia has ratified. In 2018, the UN CEDAW Committee urged the Malaysian Government to “amend all provisions of the Federal Constitution that deny women equal rights with respect to the transmission of their nationality to their children and foreign spouses. Let me also remind the Deputy Minister that in 2010, the then home minister Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein announced that Malaysian mothers have the same rights as
Malaysian fathers to pass on their citizenship to their children born overseas.
However, as usual, announcements are made without any formal ruling or follow-up on implementation of the policy. The inaction and unhelpful sweeping statements made by the cabinet members, though at different times, have resulted in stress, anxiety and heartbreaking
experiences for women, families and also painfully for the children. I believe that there are many instances why Malaysian women want to settle in Malaysia with their foreign spouses, such as they decide to remain in Malaysia to raise their children; the husband managed to get a permanent job in Malaysia and decides to establish their roots in Malaysia; or those who have been overseas and decided to come back to Malaysia to settle down with their children. And many more circumstances but how in, anyway, do these cases be threat to national security in our country? The Deputy Minister must not hide behind national security as an excuse to discriminate against women but be bold to take the necessary steps to
bring about equality and non-discrimination.
I urge Deputy Minister Ismail Mohamed Said to withdraw his statement and to take a step further to make amends by proposing amendments to the nationality laws in Malaysia so that we can have happy families and children with their rightful citizenship.