‘Back to square one’ for Malaysian mothers as govt’s citizenship amendment won’t help existing overseas-born children, LFL says

KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — Malaysian mothers — who wanted their overseas-born children to be entitled to be Malaysians automatically — are now back to “square one”, as the government’s proposed amendment to citizenship laws in the Federal Constitution will only grant such rights to those born after the amendment becomes law, human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said today.

LFL adviser N. Surendran noted that the Malaysian government had today tabled the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2024 — which contained both the amendment to help Malaysian mothers with overseas-born children and also amendments labelled as “regressive” by civil society — in Parliament.

“The main justification given by the government for the tabling of the controversial Bill is to resolve the long-standing problem of Malaysian citizenship for children born to Malaysian mothers overseas,” the former MP said in a statement today.

Currently, the Federal Constitution’s Second Schedule’s Part II’s Section 1(b) and Section 1(c) contains the word “father” only, which the federal government has interpreted to mean that only children born overseas to Malaysian fathers are entitled to citizenship by “operation of law” or automatic Malaysian citizenship. (Citizenship by operation of law means they have the right to be citizens because the law says so, and not because of any approval of any applications to be a citizen.)

The Bill today proposed to replace the words “whose father” with the words “of whose parents one at least” in both Section 1(b) and Section 1(c), which would enable children born overseas to Malaysian mothers to also be entitled to automatic Malaysian citizenship.

But LFL said that it was to its “shock and surprise” that the Bill’s clause 12(1) also states that the new amendments will not affect the citizenship status of those born before the amendments become law and come into legal effect.

“The effect of this clause is that the thousands of existing children born to Malaysian mothers overseas will not receive the benefit of the new amendment. They will remain stateless as they have been all this while,” Surendran said.

With the new amendment not applying to these children, LFL added that this means that Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children can only apply to the government for citizenship by registration (as they currently do), noting that such citizenship applications are “subject to the absolute discretion of the home minister”.

“It was the failure or refusal of the Home Ministry to grant citizenship to them all this while that led to the long campaign to amend section 1(b). Now, they will be back to square one, after having been given false hope that their citizenship woes would be resolved by constitutional amendment.

“We strongly urge the government to remove the restriction in clause 12(1) from the Bill to enable all those born to Malaysian mothers overseas who are currently stateless to receive citizenship.

“To maintain clause 12(1) in the Bill would be a betrayal of the repeated promises of government leaders including the Prime Minister, that their citizenship problems would be resolved by amendments to the constitution,” he said on behalf of LFL.




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