KUALA LUMPUR: A senior lawyer said the government needs to rectify provisions in the Federal Constitution to ensure men and women are equal in determining their children’s rights to Malaysian citizenship.
M Ramachelvam said currently women and men do not enjoy “equal rights” in seeking citizenship for their children.
“We found there are gaps in the constitution that need to be addressed as some clauses discriminate against women and some are against men,” he said.
For example, he said children could apply for Malaysian citizenship through their mothers, but fathers did not enjoy this same right.
Besides that, he said local women cannot “confer” citizenship right on their foreign husbands through marriage, forcing the men to wait for more than a decade to become a Malaysian.
Ramachelvam, who chairs the Malaysian Bar’s committee on migrants, refugees and immigration, was speaking at the end of a two-day conference on migrants and citizenship issues here.
He said a 1962 amendment to the Federal Constitution had also restricted the rights to citizenship.
“The 1962 amendment had given the home minister discretionary powers in citizenship applications,” he said.
“This means the government, through the minister, has unfettered discretionary power, where he can give or not give approval to people who want to be citizens.”
He said there must be accountability in the application process if applications are turned down so that the applicants can appeal.
Ramachelvam suggested that the home ministry form an appeal’s board or tribunal to listen to the appeals.
“Some people wait for years and apply for citizenship many times. Yet, they are turned down without any reason given.
“Pakatan Harapan should come out with a specific timeline for the JPN (National Registration Department) to respond to these applications,” he said.
Another lawyer, Sharmila Sekaran, said the government should come out with a checklist for applicants on what documents they should provide when applying for an identity card.
“JPN may reject an application for IC (identification card) just because they forgot to attach a single document and the applicant is not told about it.”
She said “they cannot be kept waiting for years to get an IC without knowing why their applications are being turned down”.
Human rights activist Ivy Josiah said Malaysia had amended laws in the past 50 years to reflect that women had equal rights with men in matters like filing their tax returns and obtaining full child custody.
“However, when applying for citizenship for a foreign spouse, we seem to be going backward.
“This goes back to the attitude against women,” she said.