Family Frontiers: Malaysian mothers in ‘anguish’ as govt’s citizenship amendment won’t help their existing overseas-born children

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — Malaysian mothers today said they are anguished to find out that their overseas-born children’s existing plight will not be solved by a long-awaited constitutional amendment by the Malaysian government.

The Federal Constitution currently only expressly enables Malaysian fathers’ overseas-born children to automatically be Malaysians, while Malaysian mothers have had no choice but to apply to the Malaysian government for their overseas-born children to be registered as Malaysians (a process which could take years and which could result in rejections by the government).

In a statement today by advocacy group Family Frontiers and its Malaysian Mothers’ Network, the Malaysian mothers raised concern about the Malaysian government’s Bill — the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2024 — which was tabled yesterday.

While the Bill did contain a proposed amendment to finally enable Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children to be entitled to Malaysian citizenship, the Malaysian mothers highlighted that the Bill’s “non-retroactive” nature would mean that only children who are born in the future would be able to benefit from this amendment and that existing cases would not be resolved.

“This decision disregards the plight of existing children born overseas to Malaysian mothers and violates the Government’s commitments to affected families.

“Countless mothers-especially those who are abroad, or have previously been unable to submit citizenship applications under Article 15(2) — are left in anguish and uncertainty upon learning that the amendment will not apply to them,” Family Frontiers and its Malaysian Mothers’ Network said in the statement.

The Malaysian mothers were commenting on the effect of Clause 12(1) of the Bill, which states that the citizenship status of any person who were born in Malaysia or born overseas — if their birth was before the amendments come into effect — would be dealt with as if the Federal Constitution had not been amended. Clause 12(1) means the Bill does not have retroactive effect.

In other words, the effect of Clause 12(1) is that if the Bill becomes law, only overseas-born children who are born to Malaysian mothers — after the Bill becomes law — will be entitled to automatic Malaysian citizenship.

On the other hand, Clause 12(1)’s effect is that the existing overseas-born children who have already been born to Malaysian mothers — before the Bill becomes law — will still have to apply for citizenship under the Federal Constitution’s Article 15(2) and cannot have automatic citizenship.

Family Frontiers was awarded for its efforts in advocating for the constitutional amendment to end discrimination for Malaysian mothers. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Family Frontiers today said Malaysian women — such as those who are widowed or divorced — will be “disproportionately impacted”, noting that many of these Malaysian mothers live overseas and want to return home to Malaysia permanently.

“Additionally, impacted children above the age of 18 are deprived of avenues to apply for citizenship, severely limiting their opportunities and rights as children of Malaysian citizens,” it said, referring to the overseas-born children of Malaysian mothers.

Family Frontiers was alluding to the Bill’s proposed reduction of the age limit for citizenship applications under Article 15(2) from the age of 21 to 18. Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children currently rely on Article 15(2) to put in their citizenship applications to the government, and currently such children can apply as long as they have not turned 21.

Family Frontiers urged the Malaysian government to change the Bill, so that existing cases of Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children who are born before the amendment becomes law — will also be able to have automatic Malaysian citizenship.

“This abrupt backtrack by the Cabinet has sparked disillusionment among affected families. We strongly urge the Cabinet to revise the Bill to ensure that the amendment guarantees automatic Malaysian citizenship for overseas born children to Malaysian mothers before the amendment,” it said.

“The efforts of the mothers who have tirelessly campaigned for their rights must not be in vain-they have the right to be protected by the amendment and granted equal citizenship rights.

“Swift action is imperative to remedy this injustice and restore faith in the government’s promises.

“The Mothers’ Amendment will be a milestone in Malaysia’s history, and given its gravity, it must be comprehensive, meaningful, and rectify decades of injustices,” Family Frontiers said, referring to the long-promised and long-awaited constitutional amendment for Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children as the “Mothers’ Amendment”.

Yesterday, rights group Lawyers for Liberty said Malaysian mothers are now back to “square one”, as the government’s proposed amendment to citizenship laws in the Federal Constitution will only grant automatic citizenship rights to Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children who are born after the amendment becomes law and would not apply to existing cases.

Yesterday, the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance listed several recommendations for the government on several amendments in the Bill which the group views as “regressive”, proposing that the government add on a “transitional provision” to enable existing Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children to benefit from the Bill.


Read here for Malay Mail’s summary of some of the key citizenship amendments that the government is proposing via the newly-tabled Bill known as the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2024.

Read here for Family Frontiers’ full statement today.

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