Malaysia’s Appeal court rules that Malaysian mothers cannot confer citizenship to overseas-born children

Photo: Family Frontiers/Facebook
Photo: Family Frontiers/Facebook

Children of Malaysian mothers who were born abroad cannot automatically become Malaysian citizens, the country’s Court of Appeal ruled today.

Judge Azizah Nawawi and the bench’s chairman Kamaludin Md Said were in the majority, while S Nantha Balan disagreed, MalayMail reported

In his dissent, Balan said that Malaysia’s current citizenship regulations discriminated against Malaysian women by preventing them from passing citizenship to their offspring who were born abroad.

The Malaysian government filed the appeal against  a High Court’s ruling in September 2021 that acknowledged that Malaysia’s citizenship laws discriminated against women and ordered that the children of Malaysian mothers born abroad should also be eligible for Malaysian citizenship.

The appeal court’s majority agreed that the term “father” in the Second Schedule of Part 11 of the Federal Constitution only applied to the biological father and could not be interpreted to include the mother or parents.

Kamaludin and Azizah stated that it was up to Parliament, not the court, to amend the constitution while arguing that their decision adhered with the legal guidelines of a Federal Court decision issued last year.

In his dissent, Nantha Balan argued that a mother’s bloodline is currently treated less favourably than the father’s in legal terms. He claimed that Article 14, which permitted children born of Malaysian fathers outside the federation to become citizens, was discriminatory since it broke the equality clause.

The denial of citizenship, according to him, also violated international law, to which Malaysia was a signatory.

In defending their opposition to the High Court’s ruling that the law was disciminatory, the Home Ministry cited reasons of “national security” and preventing children born abroad to Malaysian women from gaining dual citizenship.

Malaysian men have the automatic right to confer citizenship to their children born abroad through the simple process of registration under Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution.

In contrast, Malaysian women who wish the same for their overseas-born children must apply for Malaysian citizenship under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution.

Family Frontiers, a family rights advocacy group, has been at the forefront of this case. In December 2020, the group and six Malaysian mothers with non-Malaysian spouses and children challenged the constitutionality of the clause in the courts, asking that judges interpret it in line with the principle of gender equality.

In a social media post responding to today’s decision, Family Frontiers called it a disappointment looming “over the heads of Malaysian women across the nation and all over the world” but added “ the fight for Malaysian women’s equal citizenship rights continues”.

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