Home Civil Society Voices Citizenship laws: Government’s proposed ‘reforms’ regressive

Citizenship laws: Government’s proposed ‘reforms’ regressive

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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G25 associates itself with the Malaysian Bar in applauding the government’s decision on 18 February to approve the amendments to the Federal Constitution in relation to citizenship – in particular, Article 14(1)(b) and Sections 1(b) and 1(c) of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Constitution – to address the current discriminatory laws and grant automatic citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers and non-Malaysian fathers.

G25, however, just as the Malaysian Bar, is deeply concerned with the government’s other proposed ‘reforms’ to citizenship laws in Malaysia.

In a joint statement on 17 February, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, and Institutional Reform Minister Azalina Othman Said announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs had formed a committee to conduct a detailed study on amendments to Part III of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

Although the proposed constitutional amendments have not been officially tabled in Parliament, the government had conducted engagement sessions with some members of the civil society, including the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA).

In a statement issued by the MCRA on 25 August, the group criticised the proposed constitutional amendments. They highlighted that some of the proposed constitutional amendments involving amendments to citizenship rights by operation of law and other amendments were regressive in nature perpetuating childhood statelessness. However, the MCRA commended the proposed amendments relating to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers and agreed that these amendments should be allowed to proceed to parliamentary debates.

We highlight here some of the proposed constitutional amendments:

  • Amendments to Section 19B, Part III, of the Second Schedule pertaining to foundlings: The amendment seeks to change this from citizenship by operation of law to citizenship by registration. Abandoned children must register to obtain citizenship
  • Amendments to Article 14(1)(b) and Section 1(a) of Part II, of the Second Schedule, pertaining to children of those permanently resident: The amendment seeks to remove the words “permanently resident”, so that those born under the prescribed circumstances would have to register for citizenship
  • Amendments to Article 14(1)(b) and Sections 1(e) and 2(3) of Part II of the Second Schedule Part II, pertaining to children born in Malaysia, but not citizens of other countries: The amendment seeks to remove this section completely, thereby removing pathways for those children born in those prescribed circumstances of their entitlement to Malaysian citizenship
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G25 notes that on 1 November, during the debate on the Supply Bill 2024 in Parliament, Saifuddin Ismail stated that the Ministry of Home Affairs is expected to retain and to table in Parliament all eight proposals to amend the relevant provisions related to the granting of citizenship under the Federal Constitution. This includes the proposal deemed most sensitive by civil society – on the amended procedures to grant citizenship to stateless children and foundlings.

He proposed that for citizenship through operation of law, the process should be changed to registration. The child must first be registered with the Department of Social Welfare and the department should be the ones to register the child.

He further stressed that there should be elements of inspection and investigation. The proposed constitutional amendments would also require further amendments to related laws that govern citizenship registration.

It is of no surprise that the above proposed constitutional amendments have since received a lot of criticisms from civil society and from some government MPs.

G25 is perturbed to note that, notwithstanding the importance of the proposed constitutional amendments, according to the Malaysian Bar president, Karen Cheah, the bar had not been consulted on the amendments and there had been no response despite writing “two to three” letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The proposed constitutional amendments in relation to citizenship by operation of law would mean that foundlings are no longer presumed to be citizens of Malaysia by operation of law despite the clear presumption in Section 19B of Part II of the Second Schedule. Instead, they would have to go through various government authorities to be registered as a Malaysian citizen.

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The National Registration Department has a track record of being reluctant to grant foundlings citizenship and there had been past instances where they had failed to correctly administer the law.

In the event an application is rejected, a new application would have to be resubmitted and the whole process could take years before Malaysian citizenship is granted, if at all. In the interim, [the applicant is] denied access to basic rights such as healthcare and education.

It will also disadvantage those located in rural areas who do not live within close proximity to any National Registration Department offices. They lack the resources to register for citizenship.

The proposed constitutional amendments seeking to remove Article 14(1)(b), and Sections 1(e) and 2(3) of Part II of the Second Schedule would render those who are born in Malaysia and not citizens of any other country stateless. This would subsequently result in generational statelessness as their offspring, who despite having lived in Malaysia from birth, are not recognised as Malaysian citizens.

During the winding up session of Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s annual national congress at the Putrajaya International Convention centre on 26 November, Saifuddin said that the proposed amendments have passed the discussion session at the cabinet level, have been presented to the Conference of Rulers and that the Ministry of Home Affairs would expedite the constitutional amendments on citizenship.

G25 implores the government to seriously reconsider the proposed constitutional amendments to citizenship laws as judging from the statements made by the home minister in Parliament, as highlighted above, it now appears to be regressive rather than making clear the intention of the citizenship provisions in the Federal Constitution is upheld. – G25

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.

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