It's gender discrimination, says Wanita MCA chief of 'archaic' citizenship laws

KUALA LUMPUR: The law should be amended to allow citizenship to be automatically conferred to children born abroad to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses, says Datuk Heng Seai Kie.

The Wanita MCA chief, in her speech at the Wanita Barisan Nasional convention on Sunday (Aug 14), noted that children born overseas to Malaysian fathers with foreign spouses are allowed citizenship – but not to those born abroad to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses.

She said they have to submit an application to the National Registration Department and any approval is at its discretion.

Citing Home Ministry statistics, she said only 19 out of 3,407 applications from 2018 to 2022 were approved.

"Laws like this are clearly unfair gender discrimination towards women and (the law) must be amended immediately.

"More than 150 countries around the world have amended their laws to give male and female citizens equal rights.

"Unfortunately, Malaysia is one of the 25 countries which have yet to update these archaic laws," she noted.

Last week, the Court of Appeal held that only children born abroad to Malaysian fathers with foreign spouses are entitled to citizenship by operation of law.

This means Malaysian women who are married to foreign citizens cannot automatically pass on citizenship status to their children born outside Malaysia.

Heng also called for a ban on child marriages and to set the minimum marriageable age at 18.

She said minors below 18 should focus on their education so they are well-equipped to prepare for their future.

She added that they are also not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of domestic life, adding that the risk is higher once they have a child.

Heng also said NRD statistics show that divorce rates are the highest among those aged below 18.

She said child marriages should also be seen in the context of safety and basic rights of children, in line with International Conventions and regardless of creed or faith.

She called on authorities such as the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to act on cybercrimes, monitor for inappropriate social media content and shut down websites such as those promoting "sugar daddies".

On women in the labour force, she called on the government to ease the process of hiring domestic help and to ensure the availability of high-quality pre-school facilities, among others.

Citing a Jobstreet study, she said 40% of Malaysian women were willing to sacrifice their own careers for a domestic life while 90% were willing to quit their jobs to care for their children and elderly family members.

Joining calls of fellow Barisan women leaders, Heng said she hoped 30% of Barisan's parliamentary and state seats for the GE15 would be allocated for women.

"There is a saying that 'welfare starts at home'. Barisan should take care of its own women first, which is all of us here," she said.

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