MALAYSIAN women currently do not have equal rights as Malaysian men to confer citizenship on their children born overseas.
Women must utilise an application process under Article 15(2) that is fraught with delays and rejections without reasons given, and sadly, no guarantee of ultimately securing citizenship for their kids.
The Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship would like to highlight that the impact of discriminatory citizenship laws on women is even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the movement-control order (MCO) mandates a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, it poses a challenge for pregnant women, especially those who may be travelling with their other children. Additionally, only foreign spouses are allowed to enter Malaysia during the MCO, and that, too, if they have the long-term social visit pass (LTSVP).
Hence, foreign men who do not have the LTSVP are unable to accompany their wives, and these mothers have to either return on their own or make the decision to give birth overseas while risking the chances of their children securing Malaysian citizenship.
With countries’ borders closing and flights limited during the pandemic, these women live with a tremendous dilemma. That is, expose themselves to the health risks of travelling home (leading to quarantine) so that their children can be Malaysian, or giving birth overseas and live with the excruciating uncertainty of whether their kids will ever be Malaysian, and then undergo the long and tedious process of application.
“I was planning to give birth in Malaysia, but because of the coronavirus, travels are restricted. I might not have the choice to give birth in Malaysia, which is a pity for my baby, as Malaysian women are not able to obtain automatic Malaysian citizenship (upon registration) for their own children. This is just getting more and more impossible,” said one Malaysian living in Germany.
A Malaysian woman in Singapore felt that it was not ideal to travel to Malaysia to deliver her child as her husband could not enter the country without the LTSVP, and she was not comfortable giving birth by herself as she had experienced anxiety throughout her pregnancy. She has since given birth in Singapore, which cost her almost double in medical fees.
Women are often expected to accommodate their pregnancy based on Malaysian citizenship provisions by delivering in the country for their children to be Malaysian. Such inequality in citizenship laws discriminates against women and contributes to the unequal status of women in family and society. These laws make women vulnerable, especially during times of crisis, as they are left with limited choices and face many constraints.
While the government has been swift to address the pandemic, a fair and just solution is needed to ensure that all Malaysian women enjoy equal rights and are not put in unnecessarily vulnerable situations.
Therefore, we call on the government and every MP to amend Article 14 of the federal constitution to grant women the right to confer citizenship on their children on an equal basis as men.
In addressing the urgent needs of pregnant Malaysian women overseas amid the Covid-19 crisis, we urge the government, specifically the Home Ministry and Immigration Department, to grant citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers during the pandemic as a temporary measure, until full equality is enshrined in Malaysian citizenship laws. – April 20, 2020.
* The Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship advocates equal citizenship rights in Malaysia.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.