Put brakes on ‘regressive’ citizenship law changes, Home Ministry told

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — The Home Ministry should stop any plans to push forward with “regressive” changes to Malaysia’s citizenship laws that will keep stateless children — including those with a Malaysian father or adopted by Malaysians — stuck with being stateless, but should at the same time proceed with “progressive” changes to enable Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children to automatically be Malaysians, civil society groups said today.

In June, these civil society groups had raised the alarm over the Malaysian government’s plans to bundle both the “regressive” and “progressive” proposals for citizenship law amendments to be presented together in one package to the Conference of Rulers. The Conference of Rulers’ approval would be required for the government to bring the proposals to Parliament to be made as laws.

In a statement issued today by the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA) which comprises of 18 civil society groups working on statelessness and citizenship rights, the groups noted that Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail had on August 22 said that there has been engagement with stakeholders and that the government is expected to present the proposed citizenship law amendments to the Conference of Rulers in October.

The MCRA, which includes groups which attended a June 23 briefing by the Home Ministry on the proposed amendments, said they had previously shared their concerns with the ministry on the “regressive” amendments that would worsen statelessness in the country. MCRA said it hoped that the concerns would be considered as these issues directly affect Malaysian families.

Following Saifuddin Nasution’s August 22 remarks that engagement had taken place, MCRA today said there should be further engagement to enable updates on whether there had been updates to the regressive parts of the citizenship amendments proposals.

“We would like to request the Home Ministry to conduct a two-way engagement to share the findings and views backed with verified statistical data, from the consultations held with the various stakeholders.

“This is important, to learn if the proposed amendments have been further amended to reflect on the concerns raised,” the MCRA said, as it noted that experts and civil society organisations have confirmed that the regressive parts of the proposed citizenship law changes will lead to the deterioration of constitutional rights for stateless persons, especially among Malaysian families.

In his August 22 remarks, Saifuddin Nasution said the Home Ministry had “completed engagement with all stakeholders” on the proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution on citizenship issues, saying that the ministry hopes to present the proposals to the Conference of Rulers in October as the latter’s consent is needed and that the ministry will then carry out whatever decisions that have been agreed on.

On July 3, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri was reported saying she had received a lot of responses from non-governmental organisations and that she was asked to help on the issue of proposed constitutional amendments involving abandoned children’s citizenship issues, with national news agency Bernama reporting then that the non-governmental organisations and the Home Ministry will be holding a meeting soon regarding the matter.

But Malay Mail has learnt that the non-governmental organisations have not been further engaged by the Home Ministry since the June 23 briefing.

When contacted by Malay Mail, the civil society organisations — named in today’s MCRA statement and in their joint June 24 statement regarding the June 23 briefing —confirmed that there has been no further engagement or further briefing by the Home Ministry or Women, Family and Community Development Ministry with any of the civil society organisations who attended the June 23 briefing.

Today, MCRA said it welcomed the government’s commitment to the proposed “progressive amendments allowing Malaysian mothers to confer citizenship to their overseas-born children”, saying these amendments should be allowed to proceed to parliamentary debates.

“These changes reflect progressive and necessary adjustments that acknowledge the rights of Malaysian mothers and their children, and they deserve prompt attention,” the civil society groups said.

But as for the other proposed citizenship amendments that removes safeguards from becoming stateless and which would potentially keep vulnerable children in a cycle of statelessness, MCRA urged the Home Ministry to reconsider these amendments that “appear to be regressive and at odds with the best interests of the children involved”.

MCRA was referring to the government’s proposed amendments to Malaysia’s citizenship laws which would 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.

“We call upon the Ministry of Home Affairs to genuinely engage with a diverse range of stakeholders, including civil society organisations and experts working on children’s rights and statelessness,” the MCRA said.

MCRA said these regressive amendments should not be brought to Parliament now, while the progressive amendments should go on first in Parliament.

“However, the other proposed amendments involving amendments to citizenship rights by operation of law and other limiting regressive amendments perpetuating childhood statelessness, which encompass a range of complex and sensitive scenarios, demand a more deliberate approach. These amendments necessitate comprehensive research, a deep understanding of the issues, and broad stakeholder consultation.

“We emphasise that these amendments should be deferred and only brought forward to Parliament after undergoing a thorough and sincere consultation process with relevant stakeholders. This approach will ensure that the fundamental rights of citizens are not unintentionally eroded and that the amendments truly address the needs of those affected,” the MCRA said regarding the regressive proposed amendments.

“In light of the gravity of the matter at hand, we urge the Ministry of Home Affairs to adopt this decoupled approach to the proposed amendments. Such a measured and thoughtful strategy will not only uphold the principles of fairness and justice but also reaffirm the government’s commitment to protecting and securing the rights of all children in Malaysia,” the civil society groups said when urging for the government to not package both the progressive and regressive amendment proposals together to be brought to Parliament.

“MCRA wishes to express our sincere gratitude for the commendable efforts undertaken by the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Women, Children & Community Development and the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Human Rights, Election and Institutional Reform in actively engaging with various civil society organisations that share similar concerns. As we move forward, we eagerly anticipate the opportunity to harness this engagement mechanism to effectively address the critical matter of the proposed citizenship amendments,” they said.

The MCRA statement was endorsed by its 18 organisations, including the Advocates for Non-discrimination and Access to Knowledge (ANAK), Sabah; Association of Family Support & Welfare Selangor & Kuala Lumpur (Family Frontiers); the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL); Bait Al Amanah (BAA); Buku Jalanan Chow Kit; Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA), Malaysia; National Human Rights Society (Hakam); HaKita; IMAN Research; Johor Women’s League (JEWEL) and Lawyer Kamek (Sarawak).

The others in the list of 18 organisations who endorsed the statement are the Malaysia Hindu Dharma Mamandram (MHDM); Malaysian Collaborative Practice Group; Persatuan Pendidikan Bajau Laut (Iskul Sama diLaut Omadal); Persatuan Untuk Anak Kita (PUAKPayong); Stateless Malaysians Citizenship Movement; Voice of Children (VOC) and Yayasan Chow Kit (YCK).