Govt drops changes to Constitution’s citizenship law after backlash

PUTRAJAYA: After the outcry by many human rights groups, the government has decided to drop proposed controversial amendments to citizenship law under the Federal Constitution.

The two proposed amendments, which had been hotly contested, involve the fate of foundlings or abandoned children and stateless children.

ALSO READ: Retraction appreciated but more can be done, say civil groups

Article 19B of the Second Schedule refers to the naturalisation of foundlings and abandoned children while Section 1(e) Part II states that every person born within the Federation – who is not born a citizen of any country – is automatically a citizen of Malaysia.

The government had earlier sought to annul these provisions and make these children apply for citizenship.

But that plan has now been dropped, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said.

“After various engagement sessions with party heads, whips, agencies, legal experts and other stakeholders, I have presented my input to the Cabinet.

“The Prime Minister has also held engagement sessions and we (the Cabinet) agreed with the suggestions.

“All proposed amendments were accepted except for 19B and 1(e). These (two articles) will remain as they are,” he told a press conference at the Home Ministry here yesterday.

Among the other amendments, which have been welcomed by civil society, is giving citizenship to children born to Malaysian mothers abroad. Currently, only those born abroad to Malaysian fathers are given automatic citizenship.

Asked if the Bill would be tabled in Parliament next week, Saifuddin Nasution stopped short of providing details.

“I still have one last engagement session with backbenchers on Monday. Matters concerning (Parliament) will be handled by my officers. I can’t give an update yet.

“Once the entire process is over, we will table it as soon as possible. Parliament has its own schedule and once we are given the slot, we will do so,” he added.

Saifuddin Nasution expressed hope that once the Bill is tabled, it will get the two-thirds majority vote of at least 148 MPs. A constitutional amendment can only be passed if there is a two-thirds majority.

The minister said that, with the latest decision, those applying for citizenship will have a better experience.

“When everything is in place, the process of applying for citizenship should be done according to the rules with a clear method so applicants won’t have to wait too long,” he said.

Section 19B, Part III provides that foundlings are given automatic citizenship by operation of law, giving them the benefit of doubt as to the date and place of their birth, as the status of their biological parents is unknown and unable to be proven.

Section 1(e), Part II states that citizenship is given to vulnerable and affected people, such as children born out of wedlock, adopted and abandoned stateless children, and indigenous communities.

Meanwhile, Saifuddin Nasution said the Home Ministry had collected RM9,477,300 through its Migrant Repatriation Programme.

As of March 21, he said, a total of 19,515 undocumented migrants had registered at the immigration office and paid fines.

13,760 foreign workers have left the country, while others have until Dec 31 to leave.

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