Global Bersih: Regressive citizenship amendments risk making M’sia’s vulnerable children stateless; govt should drop plans

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Global Bersih listed the risks posed by the regressive citizenship amendments to vulnerable groups, including foundlings and abandoned children; and Malaysian permanent residents’ children. – Malay Mail photo

KUALA LUMPUR (March 15): Malaysia’s federal government should rethink and cancel its plan to make “regressive” changes to citizenship laws in the Federal Constitution, as these proposed amendments would take away existing protections for vulnerable children and cause more of them to become stateless, advocacy group Global Bersih said today.

Global Bersih, an international non-partisan movement of overseas Malaysians focusing on electoral reform to advocate for Malaysians’ rights, welcomed the Malaysian government’s plans to amend the Federal Constitution to grant citizenship rights to Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children. (Malaysian fathers’ overseas-born children currently already enjoy this under the Federal Constitution for the past decades.)

Lauding this planned amendment as a significant step towards gender equality and equal citizenship rights in Malaysia, Global Bersih said this is a commendable move that reflects the government’s recognition of the importance of upholding Malaysian citizens’ rights regardless of their gender or their geographical location.

At the same time, Global Bersih said it needs to be made clear whether this progressive amendment would also apply to children who were born overseas to Malaysian mothers before this amendment is made into law or if it would only affect those born after the amendment, noting: “It is crucial that these amendments are retroactive to include children who remain affected by their inability to obtain Malaysian citizenship.” But despite the praise, Global Bersih expressed concern over the government’s plans to package this positive amendment for Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children together with “regressive” amendments in the same bundle.

“However, Global Bersih is deeply concerned about the Government’s decision to bundle this crucial amendment with other regressive amendments. That appears to undermine the rights of some of the most vulnerable groups in our society.

“These changes threaten to strip away existing protections in the Federal Constitution, putting vulnerable children at risk of statelessness. This approach undermines the positive strides towards equality and inclusivity,” the movement’s steering committee said in a statement today.

Being stateless means one is not a citizen of any country in the world.

Global Bersih listed the risks posed by the regressive citizenship amendments to vulnerable groups, including foundlings (babies abandoned by their parents and found and cared for by others) and abandoned children; and Malaysian permanent residents’ children.

For example, Global Bersih said that for abandoned children, the proposed change from automatic granting of citizenship to requiring a registration process could make it harder for them to obtain Malaysian citizenship.

“Removing the automatic right to citizenship for children born in Malaysia to permanent residents risks increasing statelessness, particularly among marginalised communities,” it said in another example.

For vulnerable children such as those who were born out of wedlock, adopted or who are abandoned stateless children, Global Bersih said the government’s proposed removal of their automatic route to citizenship could lead to increased statelessness.

The government’s proposed reduction of the age limit for stateless children to apply for citizenship from 21 to 18 years old would shorten the timeframe that children have to secure citizenship and could leave more of them stateless, Global Bersih said.

As for the government’s proposal to change the laws to revoke Malaysian citizenship from Malaysian men’s foreign spouses if the marriage ends within two years of citizenship being granted, Global Bersih said this could discourage such women from leaving abusive situations.

“We urge the government to proceed with the amendment that grants Malaysian mothers equal right to confer citizenship to their children and to reconsider and ultimately drop the regressive amendments,” it said, pointing out that civil society groups have repeatedly asked the Malaysian government to separate the progressive and regressive amendments.

“Global Bersih urges the Malaysian government to consider the far-reaching implications of these amendments on the rights and lives of Malaysian citizens and their families.

“We call on the government to uphold its commitment to human rights, equality, and the protection of the vulnerable by re-evaluating the proposed regressive amendments and focusing on progressive reforms that strengthen the fabric of our diverse and inclusive society,” the movement said. — Malay Mail