PUTRAJAYA, June 22 — Malaysian mothers have waited years to see if the Malaysian government would recognise their children born overseas as citizens.
Unlike Malaysian fathers who can pass on their citizenship almost automatically to their children born overseas to foreigner mothers, Malaysian mothers may only pass on their citizenship automatically to their children if they are born in Malaysia, based on the Federal Constitution.
Could this problem be solved by having the Malaysian mothers fly back to Malaysia just to give birth here?
It is not that easy as some pregnant mothers may not be able to fly for health reasons, or may not even know that their children born abroad would face rejection for their citizenship applications made under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution.
The High Court in September 2021 decided in a lawsuit that the Federal Constitution should be interpreted to enable Malaysian mothers to pass on their citizenship to their children born overseas. They would be able to use the same Article 14 provisions that Malaysian men have been using to automatically pass on citizenship to their overseas-born children.
The government has appealed to the Court of Appeal, which decided in December that the High Court’s decision remains effective even while waiting for the appeal to be decided. This allowed Malaysian mothers to start applying under Article 14.
The Court of Appeal was initially due to decide today on the government’s appeal, but it is understood that it will be for further hearing of constitutional issues instead.
There are at least 70 Malaysian mothers who have applied under Article 14, but only the six Malaysian mothers in the lawsuit received a positive response from the National Registration Department (NRD) which recorded their overseas-born children as citizens.
Here’s the experience of some of the Malaysian mothers who spoke to the Malay Mail, when met recently after they went to the NRD in Putrajaya to check on the latest status of their child’s citizenship applications. They were generally told that their latest citizenship application under Article 14 would take six months to process.
Ummal Remiza Khaja Mohideen speaks to the media outside the National Registration Department headquarters in Putrajaya on June 10, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Shocking discovery for child born from high-risk pregnancy
Ummal Remiza Khaja Mohideen, 38, a Kedah native based in Kuala Lumpur, had moved to Qatar previously for work and married her Nigerian husband whom she met there.
Having previously had a stillborn baby, she had no choice but to give birth to her eldest daughter in Doha in 2014, as her pregnancy was considered high-risk and she was told not to fly.
“10 days after she was born, I went to the Malaysian embassy to register her birth. Over there I was told she will not get her citizenship — as how I know Malaysian fathers would have and can confer the citizenship to their children — so I was not only shocked, I was taken aback, I was really disappointed,” she said.
Her daughter’s citizenship application under Article 15(2) was made in 2014, but was rejected without any reasons given in 2017. She appealed in 2019 against the rejection but there has yet to be a response.
Apart from being told this month that the latest application filed this March was still being processed, she noted that the NRD officer had also said: “It all also depends on the verdict coming this June 22.”
To ensure her two younger children would be Malaysians, she had to quit her job to return to Malaysia to give birth to them, as she had learnt how much hardship her eldest daughter has to go through.
The eldest daughter is now in Malaysia on a student visa — which is required once such non-citizen children turn seven in order to remain in Malaysia — and enrolled in a national school.
Esther Teo speaks to the media outside the National Registration Department headquarters in Putrajaya on June 10, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Malaysia is the child’s only home
Johor-based mother Esther Teo was working in Germany when she gave birth to her daughter there in 2016, noting that she did not know that the child would face difficulties in being recognised as Malaysian, as her Malaysian colleagues there — who all happened to be men — had said their overseas-born children could be recorded as Malaysians simply by filling up a form at the embassy.
Her daughter’s citizenship application was filed in 2016 under Article 15(2) at the Consulate General of Malaysia at Frankfurt, but there was no outcome until 2021 when the government rejected it without giving reasons. She filed a new citizenship application this March.
In 2019, Teo and her husband quit their jobs in Germany just so she could give birth to her second daughter in Malaysia and avoid the same citizenship problems.
The eldest daughter was initially in Malaysia on a dependent’s visa that had to be renewed every few months, but now can only continue staying here on a student visa that has to be renewed annually and which is solely dependent on her being a student here.
After multiple visits to both the district and state education authorities and with much help from a national school, Teo finally managed to enrol the child, but noted that this spot is not guaranteed.
“So anytime when the school says ‘sorry the school is full, we can’t accept’, so either I will have to go through the same thing and find another school for her or I try to get her in an international school, or if I can’t afford, then that’s it for us.
“So, when she’s done with her education, then she has to leave the country, there’s no more options for us. If not studying, then our time in Malaysia is over,” she said.
“But the most scary part is the psychological pressure: you don’t know what’s going to happen, no one is going to protect my child. If anything happens to me, how is she going to stay in Malaysia? I don’t know-lah, because I know if anything happens to me and my husband, my family will be there to take care of my younger daughter, but for her, I’m really not sure where she could go. This is her home, she doesn't have other places to call home,” she added.
Malaysian mothers with their foreign-born children hold signs outside the National Registration Department headquarters in Putrajaya on June 10, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Plea for Malaysia to embrace her special needs child
A single mother in her 40s in Selangor, who wished to remain anonymous, said it has been very hard to raise her four-year-old special needs daughter as a non-citizen of Malaysia. She is separated from the child’s foreigner father who is not providing any financial support.
“When I was overseas, the embassy there, they bluntly tell us I cannot apply for anything, I’m not entitled, only can follow the father’s citizenship no matter what, so I couldn’t even submit it overseas,” she said, adding that she found out later that she could actually still submit applications overseas for Malaysian citizenship if her child was less than a year old.
The child’s citizenship applications filed in 2020 and this January are still being processed.
Being a Malaysian would not only allow the daughter to stay in Malaysia with the mother, but would also help lessen the mother’s financial burden as her child’s medical bills at government hospitals would then cost less.
Desperately, the mother asked what would happen if her child remains a non-citizen, saying: “My child is a special needs child, if anything happens to me, she only has me, there’s no one else, no father. Where can she go? How do they help those in situations like us, father totally abandoned, only left the child with the mother, the child is only four and special needs some more. Who can guarantee what will happen to the mother?”
Family Frontiers lead coordinator Bina Ramanand (centre) speaks to the press outside the National Registration Department headquarters in Putrajaya on June 10, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Fears of statelessness
A 37-year-old mother who only wanted to be known as Jolene, had in March drove all the way from Penang with her family, just to submit her Norway-born son’s citizenship application directly at the NRD’s Putrajaya office.
She said she would have given birth in Malaysia, if she had known Malaysian mothers could not pass their citizenship to their overseas-born children.
As the nearest Malaysian embassy which was located in Sweden had said there was no guarantee that her child could be a Malaysian citizen even if she were to apply, she had no choice but to let her son take on her husband’s German nationality at that time to avoid the risk of him becoming stateless while waiting to be recorded as a Malaysian citizen.
After much bureaucratic hassles in obtaining temporary visas for her son that has to be renewed regularly following their return to Malaysia in 2019, she managed to obtain a student visa for her son when he entered primary school this year.
Her son was not allowed to join his classmates on their first day of school and had to stay at home for the first two weeks, simply due to his non-citizen status.
There are also additional schooling costs such as for enrollment and examination papers, with Jolene noting: “It’s OK to pay, but it’s just that some people, even though you marry a foreigner, it doesn’t mean you are rich, it may be a burden to some parents.”