Govt to drop two controversial proposed citizenship law amendments, what about the other three?

25 Mar 2024 06:45pm
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Recently, the government announced that it will drop two out of five controversial proposed amendments to the citizenship law which affect foundlings.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said this was following various engagement sessions with party whips, party heads, agencies, legal experts and other stakeholders.

The two proposed amendments that will be dropped were Section 19B Part III of the Second Schedule and Section 1(e) Part II of Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

This meant that these two current clauses will remain.

Section 19B is about how foundlings and abandoned children could become citizens by operation of law while Section 1(e) states that anyone born in Malaysia and not a citizen of any other country automatically becomes a Malaysian citizen.

Besides these two clauses, there were three other controversial amendments proposed by the government to the citizenship law which were deemed regressive and these amendments have been accepted.

The three proposed amendments are:

1. Section 1(a), Part II of Second Schedule: To delete the words "permanently resident (PR)."

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Effect: Children born to Malaysian PR who are stateless will no longer have access to citizenship by "operation of law". Marginalised groups such as existing stateless communities of Orang Asli and Orang Asal would also risk entrapment into intergenerational statelessness.

2. Article 26(2): To replace the words "date of marriage" with "date of obtaining citizenship".

Effect: Citizenship of foreign spouse of a Malaysian man will be revoked if their marriage is dissolved less than two years after the wives are granted Malaysian citizenship.

This amendment will render foreign wives at risk of citizenship deprivation and statelessness as Malaysia does not allow dual citizenship which may result in entrapping these women in a violent or abusive marriage.

3. Article 15(A): Reduce the age limit from "21 years" to "18 years" for the purpose of citizenship registration.

Effect: Stateless child applicants will now have reduced years to apply for citizenship and potentially close out the pathway for stateless children to gain nationality amidst bureaucratic delays and appeals which could take years to process.

By convention, most stateless children apply for citizenship through Article 15(A) as only those below the age of 21 can go through this route.

What did activitists say about the controversial proposed amendments?

The Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA) has strongly criticised the government's plan to delete the term PR from Malaysia's citizenship laws, warning that it would disproportionately affect the children of natives in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia who are stateless and hold "red IC" status.

The proposed amendments, labelled regressive by civil society groups, could strip existing rights and protections, particularly for vulnerable groups like foundlings and indigenous communities.

MCRA emphasised that the changes would hinder the automatic entitlement to Malaysian citizenship for children born to PR holders, jeopardising the rights of Orang Asli and Orang Asal, especially those in rural areas with limited access to citizenship registration.

It also raised concerns about repealing Section 2(3), potentially making it harder to prove statelessness, and amending Article 26(2), which could render previously-foreign wives stateless if their marriages dissolve within two years of obtaining Malaysian citizenship.

The alliance urged the government to defer the proposed amendments for further study and consultation, emphasising the need for comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of citizenship issues.

The civil society groups which are part of MCRA are Yayasan Chow Kit, DHRRA Malaysia, Voice of the Children and Family Frontiers.

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