Home TA Online Proposed citizenship amendments: Case of tail wagging the dog?

Proposed citizenship amendments: Case of tail wagging the dog?

This is a significant inflection point in the trajectory of the 'Madani' government

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) is disturbed that the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government is insisting on proceeding with the amendments to several articles pertaining to citizenship in the Federal Constitution.

While welcoming the amendment that confers equal rights to Malaysian women who deliver children overseas, we are quite dismayed that the government intends to:

  • Drop “permanent resident” from Second Schedule, Part II, 1(a), thereby withdrawing the provision of citizenship by operation of law to children of parents with red identity cards
  • Remove subsection 1(e) from Part II of the Second Schedule. This will seriously disadvantage abandoned babies who are currently citizens by operation of law
  • Amend 19(b) of Part 3 of the Second Schedule – which has a similar effect of depriving foundlings (abandoned newborns) the right to citizenship by “operation of law”
  • Reduce the age of applicants from 21 years to 18 years. This will have the effect of narrowing the window of opportunity for applicants under Articles 15(2) and 15A of the Federal Constitution
  • Amend 26(2) from two years after marriage to two years after obtaining citizenship. This will have the consequences of forcing women to stay in failed (or abusive marriages) or become stateless, as they would have had to renounce their original citizenship on obtaining Malaysian citizenship  

The reason we are so unhappy with these amendments is that we have been handling dozens of such cases over the years. We have seen from up close the impact of statelessness on individuals – it blights their development!

Children of foreign mothers

Take the case of a child born in Malaysia to an Indonesian mother who had not registered her marriage to her Malaysian husband at the time of birth of that child.

That child will be classified as “illegitimate” by the National Registration Department and his or her citizenship will be determined by referring only to the mother’s status. Invariably, “not a citizen” or “not yet determined” will be written in that child’s birth certificate.

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This child will face difficulties in registering in a public school. Special permission from the district education office will have to be obtained. She will be charged additional fees. She will be ineligible for free textbooks and subsidised school meals.

If her citizenship status isn’t resolved by the time she reaches upper secondary school, she will not be allowed to sit for public exams. If she falls ill, she will be charged much higher rates at government clinics and hospitals.

The route to citizenship for this child is through Article 15A of the Federal Constitution. The father can apply under this provision, but the decision is discretionary.

Most often, after a wait of three to six years, a rejection letter is issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. No reasons are given. And the local registration office is not in the know either. They will just say “apply again”.

We have tried getting DNA tests done to prove the Malaysian father is truly the biological father. But still most cases get rejected. However, sometimes, just before elections, a group of such applicants will be awarded citizenship.  

Many of these individuals enter adulthood without much formal education and without an identity card.

Their non-citizen status, which is recorded in their birth certificate, precludes them from the provision of any identity card, whether blue or red.

This affects their ability to enlist in vocational training institutions or to apply for jobs in the formal sector as the employer cannot register them with the Employees Provident Fund or the social security organisation Socso.

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So they have no choice but to go for non-formal contract jobs without any social protection.

Girl children in this predicament will transmit their stateless condition to their children, as without an identity card, their marriage with their Malaysian husband cannot be registered.

The cycle of marginalisation is then extended to another generation. But to what purpose?

Children of women without documents

There is another group of children with a similar predicament. Their mothers, though born in Malaysia, do not have proper documents, often because of alcoholism and apathy on the part of the grandparents. These mothers are not able to register their marriages, so Article 17 of Part 3 of the Second Schedule is invoked by the Registration Department to negate the fact that the father of their children is a Malaysian citizen. These children then face all the problems described above.  

An even more pitiful group are the abandoned children brought up in children’s homes. Though there are provisions in the Federal Constitution that provide citizenship by operation of law, this route is seldom used by the administrators of the homes or the Welfare Department to obtain citizenship for these children.

These children, who have already been damaged by the lack of family life and parental love, are also saddled with being stateless.

Whose interests do these amendments serve?

The Madani government must pause to ask themselves: whose interest are they serving by making the route to citizenship even more difficult for these unfortunate children?

It definitely does not help the individuals or the families affected by statelessness.

It does not in any way benefit ordinary Malaysian citizens to further marginalise this group and impede their acquisition of academic qualifications or vocational skills.

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It certainly does not help the national economy to enlarge the group of marginalised persons with poor skills.

So why is the Madani government so hell-bent on pushing these amendments through?

I can only think of one reason. There are some “little Napoleans” in the Ministry of Home Affairs who have been affronted that a group of women took the matter to court and obtained an order to change their ‘standard operating procedure’ of handling Malaysian women delivering children overseas. Their power has been challenged. So, they need to send a message to show ‘who is the boss’. And this is their way of doing it.

But that begs the question – what is the home minister doing? Isn’t he the ‘boss’?

He can easily split the amendments into two sets:

  • The amendment that addresses the issue of Malaysian women delivering overseas can be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible.
  • The other amendments can be referred to a committee for further analysis. The committee should ask the proposers of these amendments how these benefit the nation. 

But it looks as though the “tail is wagging the dog” at this point – and quite vigorously at that!

This is a significant inflection point in the trajectory of the Madani government.

If the government is unable to contain feudalistic and vindictive elements within the administration and pushes on with these mean-spirited amendments that further marginalise one of the most disadvantaged groups in our society, then perhaps it is time for the Malaysian public to reconsider its political allegiance.

For us in the PSM, this is a big red line, and we will be extremely unhappy if the Madani cabinet pushes through with these amendments despite the many appeals from NGOs and individuals.    

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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Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, a long-time Aliran member and contributor, served as Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput from 2008 to 2018. A respiratory physician who was awarded a gold medal for community service, he is also a secretariat member of the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation and chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia.
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Orang Ulu
Orang Ulu
25 Mar 2024 2.56pm

All these are the outcome of the blunders of UMNO.

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