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Drop amendment removing right to citizenship for children of permanent residents

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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By N Surendran

I refer to the Constitution Amendment Bill 2024, which has now been deferred to the next session of Parliament.

On the last day of the parliamentary session on Wednesday, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail announced that the bill was open for debate just minutes before the parliamentary session ended.

This was a pointless charade. In view of the many valid objections, it would have been better to have retracted the offending clauses or sent the bill to the select committee.

Instead, the whole matter was left hanging in the air. This is unfair to everyone whose fates hang on this bill.

One of the key objections to the bill is clause 11(a)(i)(A), which removes the right of children of permanent residents to obtain citizenship by operation of law.

This has been objected to as it will render countless thousands of children stateless, particularly among the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, Orang Asal in the peninsula and those ethnic Indians and Chinese who have been inter- generationally red identity card holders.

In the case of Sabah and Sarawak, the removal of the right of permanent residents’ children to citizenship will be contrary to the provisions contained in the Malaysia Agreement 1963, the Malaysia Act 1963, the Cobbold Commission Report 1962 and the Inter-Governmental Committee Report 1962 that formed the basis of the entry of Sabah and Sarawak into the federation of Malaya in 1963.

All of the above agreements or reports stipulate that children of permanent residents will acquire citizenship by operation of law. This was a constant promise in all the key documents which formed the basis of the entry of Sabah and Sarawak into the federation. [This promise] was duly incorporated into the Federal Constitution, and now the government now wants to do away it.

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The 1962 Cobbold Commission Report in paragraph 148(k)(iii) recommended that anyone born of a parent who is a permanent resident will be a citizen by operation of law. The Inter-Governmental Report of 1962 in paragraph 18(6) also made a similar recommendation.

This was adopted and incorporated into Article 8 of the Malaysia Agreement 1963, made between the UK, Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. Subsequently, it was incorporated into law by Sections 23 and 24 of the Malaysia Act 1963.

Hence, the provision on automatic citizenship for children of permanent residents is part of the foundation stone of Sabah and Sarawak being part of Malaysia. To tamper with it, to the clear disadvantage of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, goes against both the spirit and the letter of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and the other founding texts (referred to above), which are of the highest constitutional importance.

The amendment will have particularly devastating consequences for the indigenous in the interior or rural parts of Sabah and Sarawak, many of whom have red identity cards. Their children will no longer be citizens by operation of law.

We urge the federal government to announce the withdrawal of the clause removing the right to citizenship for the children of permanent residents immediately. There is no necessity to delay the decision till the next session of Parliament.

This will serve to allay the widespread anxiety these amendments have created among the public in both East and West Malaysia. To proceed with the clause at the next session of Parliament would be a grave error with wide ramifications.

READ MORE:  Abandon regressive citizenship amendments - 60 NGOs

N Surendran is an adviser to Lawyers for Liberty.

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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