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LETTER | Whither are we bound with children's citizenship?

LETTER | A child by a Malaysian mother and a foreign father will not automatically acquire Malaysian citizenship. An application for citizenship under Article 15 of the Federal Constitution has to be made.

Ignoring the citizenship of a Malaysian mother and her right to confer that citizenship on her child as opposed to recognising that right for the Malaysian father, puts an obstacle to any progress made by Malaysia in respecting and fulfilling women’s human rights to ensure non-discrimination and equality. 

Is this the stand that the government wishes to uphold? This implies support of laws that discriminate against women, as well as unfair and discriminatory application or implementation of such laws  - de jure discrimination and indiscreet/de facto discrimination.

Malaysian mothers do not acquire equal privilege as Malaysian fathers for their children to have the same citizenship as themselves. 

The foreign female spouse (read 'weaker') versus male spouse (read 'stronger decision-maker') , hopefully, was not in the thinking process; otherwise, misogynism would seem to be the premise for such decision making. 

The public outcry from various quarters, including powerful ones, seems to have  fallen on deaf ears. 

Positive step

Article 1 of the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has clearly stated that "..the term 'discrimination against women' shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights, fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”. 

Malaysia acceded to CEDAW in 1995 and still maintains some reservations on some other articles. 

in 2001, the government had taken a positive step in its effort to eliminate discrimination against women by including the word 'gender' under Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which is consistent with the spirit of CEDAW. 

The case of Norfadilla bt Ahmad Saikin v. Chayed bin Basirun & Lain-lain saw the court giving judicial recognition to the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination against a pregnant woman.

The High Court had ruled that the act of revoking an offer of employment as a temporary teacher to a woman due to her pregnancy was unconstitutional and breached Malaysia’s commitment and obligation as a state party to CEDAW.

Enlarge citizenship rights

As an NGO that believes in empowering women and girls, Soroptimist International  Club of Bangsar urges the Attorney-General’s Chambers; women, family and community development minister;  and the minster in the prime minister’s department (law) to use the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as their yardstick for any laws concerning women and their rights.

The full development and advancement of women will give Malaysian women human dignity and recognition of their role in nation-building.

Legislating and upholding wise decisions of our Malaysian judiciary concerning women’s rights serve the purpose of guaranteeing Malaysian women the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with Malaysian men.

Contrary to appealing a court decision, which has merit and which recognises women’s rights in determining the citizenship of their children, the authorities should in fact enlarge citizenship rights to include adopted children, where either the mother or the father is a Malaysian.

The laws of Malaysia allow and recognise adopted children. Are these children and their Malaysian parents to be discriminated against and be left in a lacuna, as is the current scenario? 

No basis

Overall, an application for citizenship is a process which is subject to interpretation, delays and other prerequisites. 

Malaysia has ample laws to protect its citizens against any security issues. There is no basis for discrimination against Malaysian women by using catchwords such as 'national security'.

We are dealing with children. Melentur Buluh biar lah dari rebung nya (to curve a bamboo it must be from its shoot) – a child must be educated and trained from young as it will be more difficult when they are older.

Surely, the authorities are not saying that a Malaysian mother “who holds up half the sky” is unable to bring up her child as a good Malaysian citizen, but the Malaysian father can?

NORA LAM is advocacy convenor, Soroptimist International  Club of Bangsar.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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