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Group challenges home minister’s defence of proposed citizenship law amendment

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 11 — Proposed legal changes that could close a pathway to citizenship will not address the country’s issue with stateless persons, according to an advocacy group that said the government was minimising the matter to justify the controversial amendment.

Maalini Ramalo, the director of social protection at the Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA) that assists stateless persons seeking citizenship in Malaysia, said the amendment would only worsen the vulnerability of stateless children as it would reduce their constitutional right to just a bureaucratic process.

She also questioned Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s bid to allay concern over the proposed amendment, when he said the change was not meant to deny qualified citizenship applications that were being approved almost entirely.

“If there is a 98 per cent approval (in registration, under Article 15A), why is there the issue of statelessness in our country?” Maalini said.

“That right (entitlement to citizenship) is accorded to foundlings, and no one has the right to remove that constitutional protection.

Article 15A of the Federal Constitution provides the government special powers to register persons under 21 years of age as citizens while Section 19B from part three of the Second Schedule obliges the government confer citizenship automatically to foundlings.

However, the amendment would change the entitlement to a process of registration with an age limit, which is also subject to the approval of the home minister.

Maalini Ramalo, the director of social protection at the Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas, said the high approval rate for applications under Article 15A was commendable, but questioned the motive for introducing constitutional amendments that would close this path to citizenship. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Maalini Ramalo, the director of social protection at the Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas, said the high approval rate for applications under Article 15A was commendable, but questioned the motive for introducing constitutional amendments that would close this path to citizenship. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

Maalini Ramalo, the director of social protection at the Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas, said the high approval rate for applications under Article 15A was commendable, but questioned the motive for introducing constitutional amendments that would close this path to citizenship. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

Maalini said the high approval rate for applications under Article 15A was commendable, but questioned the motive for introducing constitutional amendments that would close this path to citizenship.

“He can’t change the law just because the numbers are small (now), the numbers will change.

“I think it’s very concerning that a minister thinks that changing the status of a child who is a foundling and their access to citizenship which is automatic is not regressive,” she said.

Maalini also expressed concern over the minister’s defensive posture when announcing the matter, saying this did not bode well for stateless persons who will be affected.

She said the home minister has also not met with groups concerned with the proposed changes, adding that there were various edge cases that would permanently deny citizenship to some if the amendment were to be adopted.

“The amendment is going to take away voiceless and vulnerable children’s rights,” Maalini said.

On the minister saying he will continue engaging on the issue, Maalini said this would be moot if the Cabinet has agreed to this course of action.

The home minister has also not met with groups concerned with the proposed changes, adding that there were various edge cases that would permanently deny citizenship to some if the amendment were to be adopted, said Maalini Ramalo. — Picture by Choo Choy May
The home minister has also not met with groups concerned with the proposed changes, adding that there were various edge cases that would permanently deny citizenship to some if the amendment were to be adopted, said Maalini Ramalo. — Picture by Choo Choy May

The home minister has also not met with groups concerned with the proposed changes, adding that there were various edge cases that would permanently deny citizenship to some if the amendment were to be adopted, said Maalini Ramalo. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Earlier this week, Saifuddin Nasution announced that the Cabinet has given its approval for the tabling of the constitutional amendment on citizenship, despite pushback from civil society groups.

The constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority in Dewan Rakyat to be passed as law.

When proposing the amendments last October, the government said it would address problems plaguing foreign-born children of Malaysian women with non-citizen husbands, who do not automatically gain citizenship unlike the offspring of Malaysian men in similar circumstances.

Civil society groups have objected to the proposed amendments that would also affect children born out of wedlock to Malaysian men, stateless children adopted by Malaysian parents, foundlings or children who were abandoned (including those abandoned upon birth), and families with generations of stateless children born in Malaysia.

They said the proposed citizenship amendments that remove safeguards from becoming stateless would potentially keep vulnerable children in a cycle of statelessness.

DHRRA Malaysia is a voluntary non-profit and non-political organisation registered under the Societies Act of Malaysia 1966 that aims to reduce vulnerability, marginalisation, discrimination, and economic exclusion in Malaysia.