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Citizenship amendments bill: Every cabinet member will be responsible for cruelty to innocent children

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to news reports that the cabinet has given the green light for controversial amendments to the Federal Constitution regarding citizenship to be tabled in the House of Representatives.

The amendments, which will remove crucial safeguards against statelessness – such as Section 1(e) of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution, the proviso that ensures anyone who is stateless will acquire Malaysian citizenship, and Section 19B of Part III of the Second Schedule, which grants citizenship to abandoned children operation of law – will destroy the lives of thousands of currently stateless children as well as future generations.

No reasonable justification has been given until now by the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government for this devastating act of inhumanity.

Despite widespread protests, like modern-day Herods, the government insist on carrying out these amendments despite the consequence to the innocents.

Children denied citizenship will lose access to education, healthcare and future employment. Their fate will be sealed the moment Parliament, where the government has a two-thirds majority, passes the amendment bill.

On 9 March, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the supposed champion of reform, deliberately evaded the subject of the removal of safeguards for the stateless. He appeared to mislead the public by acting as if the amendments are just to resolve the problem of citizenship for children born to Malaysian mothers overseas.

The PM even said that any MP who does not support the amendments does not deserve to be an MP. Considering the impact on innocent children and foundlings, it is in fact the other way around.

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Keep in mind that it is the fault of the government that so many are stateless in Malaysia. Their continued existence is due to the failings of successive home ministers and the National Registration Department to execute their duties in accordance with the Constitution and to recognise the citizenship of stateless individuals.

These individuals are by right Malaysian, and the amendments that the cabinet is bulldozing through is an amendment that deprives Malaysians of their constitutionally guaranteed right to citizenship.

The fact that the proposed amendments emanate from a government led by Pakatan Harapa is a betrayal of promises and ideals. When in opposition, Anwar Ibrahim on 12 September 2017 called out the lack of action by the then government of the day on resolving statelessness as “appalling” and “shameful”.

In its 2018 political manifesto, PH recognised the plight of the stateless and promised to address the issue by reducing the bureaucratic red tape involved in registering children. It promised to solve the problem of stateless ethnic Indians within 100 days of taking power.

On 14 July 2022, Hannah Yeoh, now part of the cabinet as youth and sports minister, slammed the then home minister and urged the government to grant citizenship to adopted children.

When in opposition, PH leaders championed the stateless to portray themselves as progressive. This stance particularly appealed to ethnic minority voters, a key target group for PH. Now in power, it appears to have turned its backs on stateless people in Malaysia.

It is not too late to withdraw the amendments.

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If they proceed, every single member of the cabinet will be guilty and responsible for these cruel amendments. Every single member of the cabinet will surely be condemned by history.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty director

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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