Govt urged to relax citizenship laws

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PETALING JAYA: Sungai Siput MP Michael Jeyakumar has urged the government to amend the laws that prevent the granting of citizenship to thousands of stateless children.

Speaking to FMT, he noted that most of the affected children came from marginalised working class families and the problem they faced had much to do with strict rules imposed by the government under various laws.

He said his party, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), had brought many cases to the government’s attention, “but until changes are made by those at the top, nothing can be resolved.”

Jeyakumar was responding to MIC treasurer-general S Vell Paari, who recently criticised him for “harping” on the issue of Indians with documentation problems. The MIC man said the government was already trying to resolve the issue.

Jeyakumar questioned whether Vell Paari had gone down to the ground to find out how dire the situation was.

“We have taken more than 40 cases to the national registration department to try to get them registered, but failed,” he said.

“I cannot blame the department. Most of the officers are quite helpful, but they are tied by the law. The ministers and deputy ministers must address and resolve this problem.”

He spoke of a couple who failed to get their child registered despite three attempts. He said the father even did a DNA test to prove that the child was his.

He voiced his belief that some regulations could be relaxed so that the 5,000-odd children from working class families could get their citizenship and go to school.

“If a person is born from a Filipino mother and a Malaysian father and their marriage was not registered at the time of the birth of the child, the child is considered a foreigner,” he said.

“I have 20 such cases in Sungai Siput and these do not only concern Indians. There are Chinese with Burmese and Vietnamese wives and Malays with Thai wives.

“All theirs kids are not recognised as citizens because the marriage of their parents was not registered before their birth.

“If I have 20 cases from Sungai Siput. What about the other 221 parliamentary constituencies around Malaysia? This could make the total come to 4,000 to 5,000 children.”

He said applications were often turned down because of a “technical footnote” in the Federal Constitution regarding children born out of wedlock.

“Sections 15 (2) and 15 (3) state that if one of your parents is a citizen you should have equal rights to citizenship. But they are using another thing in the footnotes of the constitution, where it says if the couple are not married, the child cannot use the father’s citizenship and has to go by the mother’s,who in these cases are foreigners.

“This is something they are stuck with. Some of these mothers are not even foreigners, but Malaysian women without documents.”

Jeyakumar also said children abandoned in welfare homes and newborns left in baby hatches would grow up stateless.

“They do not know who their parents are as they were abandoned. They can’t get their citizenship or identity card. Because of that, they end up stateless and in limbo.

“By setting up baby hatches, we encourage girls not to kill their babies but to drop them off at the hatches, but we do not address the problems these babies later face. These babies will be stateless and will have difficulty going to school.

“If Vell Paari had been going to the ground he would know this problem. He should urge BN ministers to solve this problem.”

Jeyakumar said the government should allow a child to become a citizen if one of his biological parents was Malaysian.

“They shouldn’t have to worry about the married status or when they got married. They can just change these regulations. You are burdening the parents by asking them to apply and re-apply, and this affects the poorest in the country.

“The people who go overseas and marry foreign wives will have enough education to know the law, unlike the working class people in the country who meet workers from Bangladesh, the Philippines or Myanmar and have children with them.

“For instance, a lady from Myanmar who is here is not allowed to get married. She would need to go back and come again on a different pass before she can get married. You would understand why some are not legally married.

“Time passes and the kids are further marginalised as they cannot go to school because they are considered foreigners.”