Flawed citizenship amendments – whose interest do they serve?

Parti Sosialis Malaysia is very disturbed that the Madani Government is insisting on proceeding with the amendments to several articles pertaining to citizenship in the Federal Constitution. While
welcoming the amendment that confers equal rights to Malaysian women who deliver children
overseas, we are quite dismayed that the government intends to

  • Drop “permanent resident” from Second Schedule, Part II, 1(a), thereby withdrawing the
    provision of citizenship by operation of law to children of parents with Red Identity Cards.
  • Removing subsection 1(e) from the Part II of the Second Schedule. This will seriously
    disadvantage abandoned babies who are currently citizens by operation of law.
  • The proposed amendment to 19(b) of Part 3 of the Second Schedule has a similar effect
    of depriving foundlings (abandoned newborns) the right to citizenship by “operation of
  • Reduction of the age of applicants from 21 years to 18 years. This will have the effect of
    narrowing the window of opportunity for applicants under Articles 15(2) and 15A of the
    Federal Constitution.
  • Amendment of 26(2) from 2 years after marriage to 2 years after obtaining citizenship.
    This will have the consequences of forcing women to stay in failed (or abusive
    marriages) or become stateless, as they would have had to renounce their original
    citizenship on obtaining Malaysian citizenship.

The reason why the PSM is so unhappy with these amendments is because we have been
handling dozens of such cases over the years. We have seen from close up, the impact of
statelessness on individuals – it blights their development!

Children of Foreign Mothers.

Let’s take the case of a child born in Malaysia to an Indonesian mother who had not registered
her marriage to her Malaysian husband at the time of birth of that child. That child would be
classified as “illegitimate” by the registration department and his/her citizenship will be
determined by referring only to the mother’s status. Invariably, “Not a citizen” or “Not yet
determined” will be written in that child’s Birth Certificate.

This child will face difficulties in registering in a public school. Special permission from the
District Education Office will have to be obtained. She will be charged additional fees, be
ineligible for free textbooks and subsidized school meals. If her citizenship status isn’t resolved by the time she reaches upper secondary school, she will not be allowed to sit for the public exams. If she falls ill, she would be charged much higher rates at government clinics and hospitals.The route to citizenship for this child is via Article 15A of the Federal Constitution. The father can apply under this provision, but the decision is discretionary. Most often, after a wait of 3 to 6 years, a rejection letter is issued by the Home Ministry. No reasons are given. And the local
Registration Office is not in the know either. They will just say “apply again”. We have tried with
getting DNA tests done to prove the Malaysian father is truly the biological father. But still most
cases get rejected. However sometimes, just before elections, a group of such applicants will be
awarded citizenship.

Many of these individuals enter adulthood without much formal education and without an
identity card. Their non-citizen status which is recorded in their birth certificate, precludes
them from the provision of any identity cards whether blue or red. This impacts on their ability
to enlist in vocational training institutions, or apply for jobs in the formal sector as the
employer cannot register them with EPF or SOCSO. They are constrained to go for non-formal
contract jobs without any social protection.

Girl children in this predicament will transmit their stateless condition to their children, as
without an identity card, their marriage with their Malaysian husband cannot be registered. The
cycle of marginalization is then extended to another generation. But to what purpose?
Children of women without documents.

There is another group of children with a similar predicament. Their mothers, though born in
Malaysia, do not have proper documents, often because of alcoholism and apathy on the part
of the grandparents. These mothers are not able to register their marriages, so Article 17 of
Part 3 of the Second Schedule is invoked by the Registration Department to negate the fact that
the father of their children is a Malaysian citizen. These children face all the problems described

An even more pitiful group are the abandoned children brought up in children’s homes. Though
there are provisions in the Federal Constitution that provide citizenship by operation of law,
this route is seldom utiised by the administrators of the homes or the Welfare Departments to
obtain citizenship for these children. These children who have already been damaged by the
lack of family life and parental love, are also saddled with being stateless.

Whose interests do these amendments serve?
The Madani government must pause to ask themselves, whose interest are they serving by
making the route to citizenship even more difficult for these unfortunate children. It definitely
does not help the individuals or families affected by statelessness. It does not in any way
benefit ordinary Malaysian citizens to further marginalize this group and impede their
acquisition academic qualifications and/or vocational skills. It certainly does not help the
national economy to enlarge the group of marginalized persons with poor skills. So why is the
Madani Government so hell-bent on pushing these amendments through.

I can only think of one reason. There are some “little Napoleans” in the Home Ministry who
have been affronted that a group of women took the matter to Court and obtained an Order to
change their “SOP” of handling Malaysian women delivering children overseas. Their power has
been challenged. So, they need to send a message as to “who is the boss”. And this is their way
of doing it.

But that begs the question – what is the Home Minister doing? Isn’t he the Boss? He can easily
split the amendments into 2 sets. The amendment that addresses the issue of Malaysian
women delivering overseas can be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible, while the other
amendments can be referred to a committee for further analysis. The committee should ask the
proposers of the other amendments how these benefit the nation.

But it looks as though the “tail is wagging the dog” at this point, and quite vigorously at that!
This is a significant inflection point in the trajectory of the Madani Government. If the Madani
Government is unable to contain feudalistic and vindictive elements within the administration,
and pushes on with these mean-spirited amendments that further marginalize one of the most
disadvantaged groups in our society, then perhaps it is time for the Malaysian public to
reconsider its political allegiance. For us in the PSM, this is a big red line, and we will be
extremely unhappy if the Madani Cabinet pushes through with these amendments despite the
many appeals from NGOs and individuals.

Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

18 th March 2024