“Will my child ever be a Malaysian?” – The Impact of Discriminatory Citizenship Laws on Women are Worse During the Covid-19 Pandemic

17th April 2020 | Malaysian women currently do not have equal rights to confer citizenship on their children born overseas on an equal basis as Malaysian men. Women must utilise an application process under Article 15(2) that is fraught with delays and frequent rejections without reasons given, and sadly, no guarantee of ultimately securing citizenship. 

The Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship would like to highlight that the impact of discriminatory citizenship laws on women are even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO) mandates a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, this would be a challenge for pregnant women, especially those who may be travelling with their other children. Additionally, the MCO only allows foreign spouses to enter Malaysia during the MCO provided they have a long term social visit pass (LTSVP). Hence spouses who do not hold one will not be able to accompany their wives and these mothers either have to return on their own or make the decision to give birth overseas while risking the chances of their children securing a Malaysian citizenship. 

With countries’ borders closing and a limited number of flights during the Covid-19 pandemic, these women live with a tremendous dilemma. That is, expose themselves to the health risks of traveling home (leading to the understandable quarantine) so that the child can be Malaysian; or deliver overseas, and live with the excruciating uncertainty if their child will ever be a Malaysian and then undergo the long tedious process of application. 

“I was planning to give birth in Malaysia but because of the Coronavirus, travels are restricted. I might not have a 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.” – Malaysian woman living in Germany 

Another Malaysian mother in Singapore felt it was not an ideal solution to travel to Malaysia to deliver her child as her husband could not enter Malaysia without an LTSVP, and she was not comfortable to undergo delivery by herself considering she experienced anxiety throughout her pregnancy. She has since given birth in Singapore which cost her almost double in medical fees due to such changes in her delivery plans. 

Women are often expected to accommodate their pregnancy according to existing Malaysian citizenship provisions by delivering in Malaysia for their children to be Malaysian. Such inequality in citizenship laws discriminate against women and contribute to the unequal status of women in the family and society. Laws as such make women vulnerable, especially during times of crisis as they are left with limited choices influenced by constraints. 

While the Malaysian Government has been swift in addressing the ongoing pandemic, a fair and just solution is needed to ensure that all Malaysian women enjoy equal rights and are not put in unnecessary vulnerable situations. 

Therefore, we call on the Government of Malaysia and every Member of Parliament to amend Article 14 of the Federal Constitution so as to grant Malaysian women equal rights to confer citizenship on their children on an equal basis as Malaysian men.

In addressing the urgent needs of the Covid-19 situation on pregnant Malaysian women overseas, we urge the Government of Malaysia, specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration Department of Malaysia to especially grant citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysians during the Covid-19 situation as a temporary measure until full equality is enshrined in Malaysian citizenship laws. 

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