KUALA LUMPUR: The Pakatan Harapan government has been urged to change nationality laws so that Malaysian women and men share equal rights to confer citizenship on their children and spouses.
Delegates to the Malaysian National Consultation on Achieving Equal Nationality Rights for Women and Men also want Articles 14 and 15 of the Federal Constitution which allow discrimination based on gender to be amended.
“Currently, any Malaysian husband can pass on his citizenship to his foreign spouse, two years after she gets PR (permanent resident status).
“But a Malaysian woman can’t pass on her citizenship to her foreign husband so easily.
“A foreign husband has to wait 10 years after he has obtained his PR before appling for citizenship, just like any other male seeking citizenship.
“A Malaysian man can pass on his nationality to his children born overseas very easily... it takes only three days. But a Malaysian woman can’t.
“She can apply but in most cases, these applications get rejected time and time again for years without an explanation,” said Bina Ramanand, coordinator of the consultation.
More than 80 activists, lawyers, civil society groups and individuals from all over the country attended the two-day consultation jointly organised by the Foreign Spouses Support Group, the Malaysian Bar Council, National Council of Women’s Organisations Malaysia, Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, Our Journey and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, among others.
Currently, Malaysia is one of 25 countries in the world that denies women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis as men.
Malaysia is also one of 50 countries in the world that denies women the equal right to confer nationality on their spouses and one of only three countries that denies men the right to confer nationality on their children born out of wedlock.
“The Bar Council is concerned about the citizenship issues in the country and the Constitution has to be ammended to address gaps that allow for discrimination based on gender.
“There also has to be transparency on the approval or non-approval of citizenship and an automatic appeal mechanism for applicants. It cannot be completely at the discretionary powers of the minister,” said Datuk Seri M. Ramachelvam of the Bar Council.
The delegates of the consultation will push for a “citizenship task force” led by the Foreign Spouses Support Group to put forward 13 recommendations to the Govern-ment and put pressure on parliamentarians to ensure equal nationality rights for all Malaysians is achieved.
“This is a problem that can be solved. Law reform may take time. Amending the Constitution may take time but there are processes that can be implemented tomorrow to change the situation.
“All it requires is the political will to make the change,” said Sharmila Sekaran, chairman of NGO Voice of Children.
Malaysia’s discriminatory nationality laws, said delegates, not only infer that Malaysian women are second class citizens, they also deny children born to Malaysian citizens their rights and this leaves families in limbo, as they wait for years for a decision on citizenship application.
Among those sharing their insight at the consultation were Malaysians who are facing the brunt of these discriminatary laws.
“My husband, an Indian national, and I got married in 2011 and we have a daughter who is five years old. It’s hard to accept that as a Malaysian woman, there is no avenue for me to give citizenship to my spouse. He has a Malaysian family and yet, he is regarded as a foreign worker.
“Thankfully, he has a job now but he has no access to Perkeso (social security) and his employer is obliged to set aside only RM5 a month towards EPF. How will he be able to have a substantial retirement fund at this rate?
“We plan to have more children but we don’t want to live in uncertainty. Will we ever be able to buy a house or set up a business or just live as citizens together as a family,” said Aminah who chose not to disclose her full name for fear that it may jeopardise her husband’s chances of getting PR.