Malaysian mothers hail win for equality in citizenship case

by AFP

KUALA LUMPUR – A group of Malaysian mothers won a landmark legal challenge Thursday, overturning what they described as discriminatory citizenship rules affecting women who gave birth overseas.

The rules had meant a woman with a foreign spouse who had a child abroad was barred from automatically passing on her Malaysian nationality.

Similar restrictions did not apply to men from the Southeast Asian country, who enjoy a straight path to citizenship for their offspring.

Socially conservative Malaysia was among only a handful of countries worldwide with such rules, with campaigners long complaining they were discriminatory.

But on Thursday, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled in favour of a challenge brought by six Malaysian mothers, who argued the regulations breached the constitution.

“This judgement recognises Malaysian women’s equality, and marks one step forward to a more egalitarian and just Malaysia,” said Suri Kempe, president of NGO Family Frontiers, which helped bring the case to court.

The judgement applies to all Malaysian mothers, not just the plaintiffs in the case, she said.

The lawyer for the mothers, Gurdial Singh Nijar, hailed a “momentous decision”, saying the rules had “disrupted family structures”.

There was no immediate reaction from the government, and it was not clear whether they would appeal the ruling.

Campaigners said the law had sometimes left women trapped in abusive relationships.

If they brought their children back to Malaysia, the youngsters faced obstacles in accessing public services like free education and healthcare.

Women could apply for their overseas-born children to be granted citizenship but authorities rarely agreed.

According to Family Frontiers, the home ministry received over 4,000 applications between 2013 and 2018, but only approved 142.

The government had sought to get the mothers’ challenge dismissed, insisting the rules were in line with the constitution.

But campaigners said they breached constitutional guarantees to equality before the law, and the court allowed the case to proceed.