Unequal Citizenship Rights: Female MPs ready to propose constitutional amendments to defend Malaysian mothers

07 Aug 2022 08:30am
Fuziah (right) and Kasturi (left).
Fuziah (right) and Kasturi (left).

SHAH ALAM - Several Member of Parliaments have proposed for an amendment to the Federal Constitution in regards to the Court of Appeal's decision that ruled children born abroad to Malaysian mothers married to foreigners are not entitled to Malaysian citizenship.

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh described the Court of Appeal's decision as a sad day for all women in Malaysia and was ready to propose amendments in Parliament to make the Federal Constitution more gender neutral.

"I am deeply saddened by the Court of Appeal's decision on Friday, which rejected the citizenship application for children born abroad by Malaysian mothers married to foreigners.

"This is clearly a form of injustice and discrimination against women while male Malaysian citizens in the same situation will automatically get citizenship for their children,” Fuziah said when contacted by Sinar on Saturday.

She said there was a need to amend the Federal Constitution so that the term used was more gender neutral.

“We need to change the word ‘father’ to ‘mother or father’ and all the words in the Constitution to ‘he’ or ‘she’.

“Article 8 of the Constitution also states that there is no discrimination based on gender or sex, so we must be consistent in all its application,” she said.

In the 2-1 judgment at the Court of Appeal on Friday, Judge Datuk Kamaludin Md Said and Judge Datuk Azizah Nawawi were the majority in agreement while Judge Datuk S Nantha Balan was against it.

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The majority said that the term “father” in the Second Schedule of Section 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution refers to the biological father and cannot be extended to the mother or parents, while the previous high court decision ruled otherwise.

Serious in highlighting the issue, Fuziah also admitted that discussions had already begun with several other MPs.

"Many MPs do feel it is our responsibility to do something about the constitutional amendment (on this issue). I also want to invite female MPs and female ministers from the government to fight for this issue together.

"In addition, I will also propose this matter in the Special Select Committee on Women and Children's Affairs and Social Development of which I am a member of the committee," she said.

Sharing a similar stance, Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto wants an amendment to be made to the Federal Constitution involving Article 14 which was citizenship through the force of law to include the word “mother” in the highest law of the land.

"There is only one solution to this issue, which is to amend Article 14 of the Federal Constitution by including the word 'mother' and there will no longer be any difficulty for Malaysian women who give birth abroad to apply for equal citizenship.

"This involves the future of their children and at this point they are stateless due to a sexist law that was interpreted by some judges according to their understanding, and because of that it affects the lives of these children," she said.

In addition to the amendment, Kasthuriraani - better known as Kasthuri, also hopes that the Prime Minister will hold a special session in Parliament to discuss the proposal to present and approve this matter.

Meanwhile, Legislation and Public Management Cluster of the Council of National Professors Head of the Governance Professor Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod said based on the national Constitution, the children cannot obtain citizenship status automatically unless through a lengthy legal or application process.

Therefore, he said, the government needs to bring a motion to amend the Federal Constitution by including the words 'children born abroad to Malaysian mothers' in Part II, Second Schedule, Article 14 of the Federal Constitution.

"It is true that since 1957, the provision of the Constitution regarding citizenship is only if the father is a citizen, then the child can get automatic citizenship even though the mother may not be a citizen.

"So, if the government is serious about amending, the motion needs to be brought to the Dewan Rakyat and needs to be supported by a two-thirds majority.

"At the same time, we need to go through the process to get approval from the Council of Rulers when it involves any amendment to the Federal Constitution," he said when contacted.

The Court of Appeal on Friday gave a 2-1 decision to allow the appeal by the Malaysian government, thus setting aside the High Court's decision dated Sept 9, 2021 in the case of Suriani Kempe & Ors v Government of Malaysia & Ors.

According to the decision, the Court of Appeal had decided to allow the Malaysian government's appeal not to grant citizenship rights to children born abroad to mothers who are Malaysian citizens.

Following that, various parties including politicians and non-governmental organisations urged the government to start efforts to defend the rights of children born abroad to Malaysian mothers equally, such as children born abroad to Malaysian fathers.

Commenting further, Nik Ahmad Kamal said based on the practice in most countries, usually a child born abroad will get the citizenship of the father's side.

"There are some countries that allow dual citizenship, but our country's laws clearly do not allow it. If they want to apply to become Malaysian citizens, they have to set aside the status of other citizens.

"But if the mother is a citizen and married to a foreigner and was born abroad, there is a little difficulty. What they can do is go through a lengthy legal process or application.

"Because of that, many people are fighting for automatic approval when originally, the provision in the Federal Constitution since our independence is like that," he said.