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Group files suit to challenge gender bias in granting Malaysian citizenship

Family Frontiers criticises tedious application process and prolonged periods of limited access to education, healthcare and social protections.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
A woman looks at the image of an identity card or MyKad. Under the constitution, children born overseas to Malaysian mothers are required to apply for citizenship. Photo: AFP
A woman looks at the image of an identity card or MyKad. Under the constitution, children born overseas to Malaysian mothers are required to apply for citizenship. Photo: AFP

Six Malaysian women joined a family advocacy group in filing a suit at the High Court today to challenge the government’s policy of denying citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian women married to foreign spouses.

The Association of Family Support & Welfare Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers), an umbrella body for the Foreign Spouses Support Group which has long campaigned for gender equality in citizenship laws in the country, said the suit aimed to uphold the principle of equality in the Federal Constitution, as well as Malaysia’s commitment to international conventions on gender equality.

Family Frontiers president Suri Kempe said the “long and arduous application processes” under Article 15(2) of the constitution had caused many families to suffer.

“These discretionary applications can take years and frequently end in rejection with no reason given. Moreover, applicants are often forced to apply multiple times, leading to prolonged hardships where they have limited access to a range of fundamental rights such as healthcare, education, and social protections,” she said in a press conference today.

The issue was recently thrust into the limelight after several Malaysian mothers married to foreign spouses abroad could not travel back to the country to give birth, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Suri said transnational families also faced other difficulties, citing the case of Adlyn Teoh, a Malaysian who was unable to visit her 94-year-old grandmother in Sarawak as her China-born eight-year-old son would have to undergo quarantine alone.

“His status meant that he had to undergo a mandatory quarantine while I didn’t. How could I leave my eight-year-old alone in an unfamiliar place?” Suri quoted Teoh as saying.

Under the Federal Constitution, children born overseas to Malaysian fathers are automatically granted citizenship.

Those born to Malaysian mothers, meanwhile, need to apply for citizenship.

Critics have said there is almost no chance of such applications succeeding.

Activists say the provision violates Article 8(2) of the constitution, which states that there shall be no discrimination against citizens based on religion, race, ethnicity, place of birth or gender.

Deputy Home Minister Ismail Mohamed Said recently defended the practice. He argued that in other countries, children born overseas follow their father’s citizenship, and as such, there could be dual citizenship for children born abroad to Malaysian women with foreign husbands.

Malaysia does not recognise dual citizenship.

Suri reminded the government that it is a party to UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Malaysia is one of only 25 countries worldwide that does not grant women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis as men,” she said at the press conference, which was also attended by Teoh and Myra Eliza Mohd Danil.

“In 2006, Indonesia reformed its nationality law to uphold comprehensive gender equality, making Malaysia and Brunei the only nations in Asean to maintain gender-discriminatory citizenship laws.”

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