Malaysian mothers can pass citizenship to their children, KL court rules

Malaysian mothers protesting outside the KL High Court in an August photo: Photo: Family Frontiers/Twitter
Malaysian mothers protesting outside the KL High Court in an August photo: Photo: Family Frontiers/Twitter

For decades, Malaysian women married to foreign spouses have not been able to confer citizenship to their children automatically. But that’s about to change. 

The Kuala Lumpur High Court today ruled that Malaysian fathers as well as mothers should have the right to extend citizenship to their children who were born overseas. The court’s decision came months after advocacy group Family Frontiers took the matter to court.

“The grievances of the plaintiffs are real the discrimination is apparent,” judge Akhtar Tahir said. 

Since before Malaysia gained independence, local fathers married to foreign spouses have been able to automatically confer citizenship to children born overseas. But that right has not been extended to local mothers, whose children will have to apply for citizenship with the registration department, which doesn’t always end up being successful.

“High Court judge Akhtar Tahir announced that the word ‘father’ must therefore be read to include mothers and that their children are entitled to citizenship by operation of law,” the group announced in a statement today. 

On Dec. 18, Family Frontiers founder Suri Kempe and the six Malaysian women filed a suit seeking six court orders, including a declaration to include Malaysian mothers as a condition for children born abroad to be given automatic Malaysian citizenship. They also wanted all relevant government agencies, including the National Registration Department, the Immigration Department and Malaysian embassies, to issue citizenship to the eligible children.

Suri said that today’s ruling was a step closer to gender equality. 

“This judgement recognizes Malaysian women’s equality, and marks one step forward to a more egalitarian and just Malaysia,” she said in a statement.

Today’s ruling will stand if the government decides to yield and not appeal Akhtar’s decision. Malaysia is one of 25 countries in the world that denies women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis as men. Other countries on the list include Nepal, Syria, and Qatar.

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