Proposed constitutional amendments on citizenship could disenfranchise some groups, say NGOs

PETALING JAYA: Proposed constitutional amendments on citizenship could disenfranchise some, says a group of non-governmental organisations.

In a letter urging the Cabinet to put on hold the draft Citizenship Amendment Bill, the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA) expressed reservations about the proposed revisions to citizenship laws being reviewed.

ALSO READ: AGC drafting proposed amendments to Constitution on citizenship issues

The letter, endorsed by 62 non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, as well as three coalitions and 30 renowned individuals, said the proposed changes, in their current form, deviate from the core principles of justice, equality and respect for human dignity that are fundamental to our country's ethos and advancement.

"While one of the proposed amendments aims to grant citizenship to children born abroad to Malaysian mothers – and should be lauded – five other proposed amendments, in their current form, threaten to introduce regressive measures that could disenfranchise certain segments of our population.

"Foundlings, abandoned children, and the children of stateless Malaysian permanent residents would lose their right to citizenship.

"The constitutional protection against statelessness would also be removed, especially for elderly stateless persons, children born pre-marriage, adopted stateless children and other vulnerable individuals.

"Additionally, foreign spouses of Malaysian men are at risk of statelessness if their marriage ends within two years of acquiring Malaysian citizenship.

"Lastly, stateless children would have shorter timeframes to apply for citizenship through the citizenship-by-registration provision, exacerbating their challenges," read the letter.

They added that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim himself had criticised the administrative hurdles that stateless children must overcome in seeking citizenship, yet the current proposed amendments would further exacerbate the difficulties they face.

The letter then appealed that the government take immediate action to halt these five amendments.

"We believe that it is imperative to uphold the integrity of our citizenship laws and ensure that they reflect the values of justice, equality and respect for human dignity.

"Such amendments not only go against the spirit of inclusivity and unity upon which our nation was founded, but also risk exacerbating existing social divisions and inequalities.

"We strongly urge the Cabinet to promptly disclose the draft bill as a Green Paper and make it available for public consultation.

"A Green Paper would enable stakeholders to consider policy options to address proposed regressive amendments thoroughly, avoiding rushed decisions.

"Without access to the precise wording, the public cannot fully assess the implications of the proposed changes that will affect their lives.

"Meaningful public engagement is vital in democracy, ensuring all stakeholders can provide input on matters affecting their rights.

"Transparent and inclusive consultation processes demonstrate the government's commitment to accountability and respect for citizens' voices," it said.

In December last year, it was reported that the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) was drafting proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution regarding the citizenship rights of children born abroad as a result of the marriage of a Malaysian woman to a foreign spouse.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the amendments were made to amend Article 14(1)(b) to include the word 'mother', to enable the child's citizenship to be obtained by force of law.

He said originally (the amendments) were to include one word, namely mother, but on the advice of the Conference of Rulers that there should be an element of control because when we accept a child as a citizen through this amendment, the child is also a citizen according to the nationality of his father and the nationality of his mother, but the Constitution does not recognise dual citizenship.

"So what we have done is to amend the relevant clause including adding another amendment which is also being made by the Attorney General's Chambers by proposing that at 18, the child can choose one of the citizenships, why 18?

"For us to be consistent with the Child Act 2001 and the Age of Majority Act 1971," he said at the Dewan Negara.

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