Women's Minister advocates for comprehensive solutions to tackle statelessness

Nancy has been actively seeking solutions on the matter and vowed to go beyond immediate measures to combat the issue to achieve lasting improvements.

15 Mar 2024 01:15pm
Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri - FILE PIX
Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri - FILE PIX

SHAH ALAM – Stateless is a term that conjures images of uncertainty and it is a reality faced by thousands, especially children in Malaysia.

These individuals who were born within the country's borders would find themselves unrecognised by the country they call home as they are stuck in bureaucratic limbo, being denied basic rights, including access to education and healthcare.

But how did they end up being stateless?

At the heart of this issue lie discriminatory laws and bureaucratic hurdles that hindered their path to a normal life and sometimes being branded as "illegal immigrants" despite their birth on Malaysian soil.

In light of these challenges, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri has been at the forefront, advocating for comprehensive solutions to address statelessness.

She said she has been actively seeking solutions on the matter and vowed to go beyond immediate measures to combat the issue to achieve lasting improvements.

"On the matter of statelessness, looking at the numbers, we hope it doesn't end here. We will have more to pursue, to improve it.

"When we say improve, we already did something that I want to see happening," she said during an exclusive interview with Sinar Daily.

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Advocacy groups have been raising concerns over the package of proposed amendments to Malaysia's citizenship law under the Federal Constitution as it not only contained newly slipped-in elements, but the removal of other rights which could worsen the issue of statelessness in Malaysia, particularly for foundlings and other vulnerable children.

One of the proposed amendments involved the automatic citizenship granted to foundlings.

The government has proposed to amend the provision from citizenship by "operation of law" (automatic) to citizenship by "registration" which means that children who were abandoned at birth would have to register to become a citizen if this amendment was in effect.

This was seen as an amendment which was regressive by human rights advocates.

The government also proposed to amend the clause which would allow Malaysian mothers married to foreign husbands to confer citizenship to their child born overseas, a privilege previously afforded to only Malaysian fathers.

It is a progressive move that is welcomed by many.

Commenting on the matter, Nancy said she intended to standardise the definition of "parent" to encompass both mothers and fathers while acknowledging the multifaceted nature of the issue.

Amending the Constitution, she said required approval Conference of Rulers where discussions have already begun.

“Alhamdulillah the issue has been addressed, but there are still more challenges ahead that we need to tackle. The proposed amendments suggest that there's more work to be done and we hope to see more improvements.

“Specifically, we're eager to see progress on the issue of statelessness,” she said.

While many support the replacement of Malaysia's "father-only" clause with a more inclusive, gender-equal provision, civil society organisations have raised objections to what they saw as an effort to link the expansion of citizenship rights for one group with the reduction of citizenship rights and entitlements for another group.

On March 13, during an official visit to Germany, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim assured concerned parents that the rights of children born abroad were being addressed by the government.

The Cabinet, he said has agreed to bring an amendment to Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution relating to the citizenship rights of children born abroad to Parliament this month.

He said this when answering a question at a dinner with Malaysian diaspora in Berlin.

It was reported that the Home Ministry has so far received 150,000 citizenship applications, including cases of stateless children.

The number of citizenship status applications for children born abroad to Malaysian women married to foreigners was 688 under Article 15(2).

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