This Mother’s Day: Remember, Malaysian Mothers are Still Unequal Citizens According to Citizenship Laws

10th May 2020 | As most countries around the world celebrate Mother’s Day today, the Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship would like to remind the Government of Malaysia that Malaysian mothers still do not have equal rights to pass on citizenship to their children born overseas. The unequal treatment of women with regards to the passing on of citizenship to their children is a direct discrimination against Malaysian mothers.

Vulnerability to Gender-Based Violence

When Malaysian women cannot pass on citizenship to their children born overseas, it could lead to situations where these women are compelled to rely on their foreign husbands’ citizenship for their children; leading to situations where these women may be forced to live abroad and sometimes in abusive and vulnerable situations.

Malaysian mothers, also face obstacles when it comes to returning to Malaysia with their non-citizen children, such as restrictions on their children’s right to stay, access to national schools and even healthcare.  Hence, they opt to live in their husband’s country overseas, making it difficult to leave toxic or abusive marriages. Malaysian citizenship laws in effect infringes on women’s rights over their children, although they may be the principal caregiver.

A Malaysian mother overseas quoted “I cannot divorce my husband as my son is not a (Malaysian) citizen. I might end up losing his custody even though I raised him. I am still stuck in this marriage and there is nothing else I can do.”

Malaysian mothers who are divorced and have non-citizen children will also require the help of their foreign ex-husband to renew the passport of their children as long as their Malaysian citizenship applications are pending, sometimes for years, with no guarantee of approval.

Impact on mothers are stark during Covid-19 situation 

The current Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the situation of vulnerability for Malaysian women who are unable to obtain citizenship for their children; Malaysian women are choosing to remain in high risk countries instead of returning to Malaysia as their non-Malaysian children are generally issued short-term visas, especially without the presence of the foreign father. Not only are Malaysian mothers treated as unequal citizens by the law, they are also considered unequal guardians for their children by such discriminatory policies.

Feeling of fear and uncertainty

Malaysian mothers with non-citizen children have consistently indicated concerns on an uncertain future for their children, especially after turning 21 years old as these children will no longer be eligible to citizenship under the provisions of Article 15(2).  A Malaysian mother who is terminally ill says not a day goes by without the feeling of fear and anxiety about what would happen to her non-Malaysian children should something happen to her.

On this Mother’s Day, while we honour mothers and their influence over the family and society, let us not forget that Malaysian mothers are still not recognised as equal citizens by our citizenship laws. On this Mother’s Day, we call upon the Malaysian Government to amend provisions of the Federal Constitution which deny Malaysian mothers equal rights with respect to passing on citizenship to their children born overseas, on a similar basis as Malaysian fathers. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers living in Malaysia.

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