Fix citizenship law, proposed amendments could increase statelessness - Suhakam, NGOs

Citizenship Bill mixes progress with setbacks, leaving children in limbo

21 May 2024 04:43pm
Photo for illustration purpose only. - File photo
Photo for illustration purpose only. - File photo

SHAH ALAM - The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) urged the government to streamline citizenship applications for children born overseas to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses.

This, the human rights body argued, would be a significant step towards ending discriminatory nationality practices.

“Birth registration is important, and it gives legal identity to a person born and it should not be equated to conferring an individual with a nationality.

“It safeguards and guarantees a person's legal, social and economic rights,” Suhakam Commissioner Professor Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal said during the 2070th Meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) yesterday.

She also stressed the importance of removing barriers to birth registration, ensuring everyone has a legal identity per the Federal Constitution's mandate of equality.

While applauding the government's move towards automatic citizenship for these children, Aziah expressed concerns about proposed amendments potentially worsening statelessness.

Concerns Regarding Proposed Amendments

Suhakam highlighted specific points in the Constitution Amendment Bill 2024 that raised red flags:

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  • Loss of Automatic Citizenship: Children born to Malaysian permanent residents would no longer be automatically eligible.
  • Conditional Citizenship for Spouses: A foreign spouse's citizenship could be revoked if the marriage dissolves within two years of being granted citizenship.
  • Reduced Age Limit for Stateless Applicants: The age limit for stateless and undocumented children to apply for citizenship would be lowered from 20 to 15.

Noor Aziah urged the government to improve procedures for granting citizenship to vulnerable groups and adopt a more comprehensive approach.

This includes thorough research on the amendments' impact and consultations with stakeholders like civil society and children's rights experts.

NGOs Echo Concerns, Seek Clarification

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) echoed Suhakam's concerns about the amendments' impact on existing children's citizenship status. They highlighted the lack of retroactivity in the proposed changes.

“The progressive amendments of Malaysian mothers were bundled with five other regressive amendments, two of which were dropped.

“Three of the amendments continue to be listed. However, we ask the government to immediately proceed with the progressive amendment and to call to the regressive amendments,” the representative said.

The NGOs also addressed the plight of Malaysian mothers who had to return home due to the pandemic's border closures, fearing their children wouldn't be eligible for citizenship abroad.

They called for clarification and temporary special measures during such emergencies.

The situation is similar for Malaysian men whose children are born outside of wedlock.

Marriage registration delays during the pandemic further complicated their children's citizenship applications.