Proposed constitutional amendments could worsen statelessness, national security - Ideas

Home Ministry's rationale for citizenship amendments questioned by Ideas



19 Mar 2024 02:15pm
Photo for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX
Photo for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX

SHAH ALAM - The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) warns that proposed constitutional amendments on citizenship could exacerbate statelessness, burden the economy, and compromise national security.

In a statement, the Malaysian think tank expressed deep concern about the proposed changes to the Federal Constitution, particularly those impacting stateless children, especially foundlings.

Ideas suggested that the government should separate the proposed amendments and prioritise those granting Malaysian mothers equal rights to confer automatic citizenship on their children born overseas.

The organisation also recommended that MPs be allocated more time to thoroughly discuss the proposed amendments before voting.

Of particular concern is the reasoning provided by the Home Ministry for these amendments, citing national security and the concept of citizenship as a privilege.

Ideas Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Tricia Yeoh believed that using national security as a rationale for these regressive changes is misleading and diverts attention from the harm they will cause to stateless children.

"I stress that using national security as a justification for these regressive amendments is a red herring and an effort to distract the public from the harm that will inevitably be inflicted on stateless children.

"Insisting that citizenship is a privilege also denies already vulnerable sections of society access to basic rights available to every human being.

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"Furthermore, the Ministry has failed to provide data proving that the status quo regarding stateless children poses a national security threat, despite repeated requests from CSOs," she said in a statement today.

She further stressed the importance of recognising that providing a clear pathway to citizenship grants stateless persons - whose statelessness is through no fault of their own - access to public education, banking, healthcare services, and employment.

"These proposed amendments will worsen the current situation, increasing the number of stateless children and creating new generations of stateless persons unable to access basic rights, hindering their ability to earn a decent living, and thereby increasing their risk of exploitation and trafficking.

"According to the US Department of State's 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, Malaysia's birth registration policies have left over an estimated 500,000 individuals – including children – stateless, unable to access government services, including legal employment and public schools, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking.

"This is clearly the security issue threatening our safety," added Yeoh.

In addition to the humanitarian aspect, Ideas also stressed the economic ramifications of statelessness.

To this, the organisation cited a study conducted in 2019 by the office of Subang MP estimating an annual loss of RM6 billion due to the denial of citizenship to approximately 300,000 individuals born in Malaysia or to Malaysian parents.

"This loss results from unequal job opportunities and lower productivity faced by stateless individuals.

"Addressing citizenship issues promptly, the report emphasises, can lead to significant economic, social, and health benefits without incurring additional administrative costs," it said.

In a related matter, Ideas Founding President Tunku Zain al-'Abidin Tuanku Muhriz condemned these amendments as an assault on the Federal Constitution and the nation's core values.

"These reprehensible amendments are a direct assault on our Federal Constitution and an affront to our founding values.

"If these amendments pass, Malaysia will be the only country in the world in a decade that actually takes away the protection and rights of children," he said.

On March 8, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the Cabinet has agreed to the tabling of the constitutional amendment to Malaysia’s citizenship law that could hamper some stateless children from becoming Malaysian.

Various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have expressed apprehension regarding the proposed amendments, saying they might eliminate existing safeguards for stateless children.

The suggested amendments, if enacted, would, among other things, subject abandoned children to discretionary citizenship, placing the responsibility on the children to prove their parentage.

The amendment would also come against the backdrop of discrimination against Malaysian women with foreign spouses, whose children born outside Malaysia do not get automatic citizenship unlike those of Malaysian men with foreign wives.