Remaining amendments still put foundlings at risk, group warns

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The remaining proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution on citizenship will still negatively affect foundlings, said the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance.

Zarrah Morden/Malaysiakini

The alliance took issue with the proposed removal of the term “permanently resident” from Section 1(a) Part II of the Second Schedule.

Currently, the section states that anyone born in Malaysia to a parent who is a citizen or someone “permanently resident” in Malaysia is automatically granted citizenship.

The government is seeking to remove the words “permanently resident”. This means those born under those circumstances would be subjected to the citizenship registration process.

The removal of the term would render foundlings stateless, the alliance said, referring to abandoned children who would be without citizenship if they had no guardian to manage the registration process for them, or they would remain stateless for as long as the registration process continued.

“Because now the government is actually removing the word ‘permanent resident’ from Section 1(a), so what does it mean for Section 19(b)?” said Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) vice-president Jasmine Wong Kah Man.

Wong was referring to the proposed amendment that was recently dropped by the government.

Section 19(b) states that a “newborn child found exposed in any place”, or a foundling, is assumed to have been born to a mother who is Malaysian or a permanent resident and is therefore automatically Malaysian.

The initial proposed amendment would have made abandoned children have to register to obtain citizenship.

However, Wong said that despite the government dropping the amendment to Section 19(b), ostensibly maintaining the rights of foundlings, the children would still be affected if the amendment to Section 1(a) was made.

“It will make [the dropping of the amendment to] Section 19(b) obsolete, redundant.

“So, with the government saying they are dropping the amendment, they are no longer amending 19(b), is as good as not saying it…

“Because to remove the word PR from 1(a), they are achieving that result that they had initially intended to do with Section 19(b).

“So that is why we would say the government’s concession to actually agree not to touch Section 19(b), it cannot be said as genuine.

“If they have agreed to drop Section 19(b), they need to also drop the amendment to Section 1(a),” Wong said.

Family Frontiers president Suriani Kempe warned that the remaining proposed amendments cannot be read in isolation.

The government’s decision to drop two proposed amendments and not the others has resulted in confusion as some of the amendments must be read together, she said.

The alliance held a press conference at Buku Jalanan Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Lawyer Kamek for Change director Simon Siah urged the government to establish a commission before putting things into motion.

Siah, who joined the press conference via a video call, also called for Orang Asal and Orang Asli voices to be heard on the matter.

“This time the Federal Constitution amendments will once again erode the rights of Sabah and Sarawak, especially Dayak and Orang Asal people in Sabah and Sarawak.

“This is because most of the Orang Asal of Sabah and Sarawak who are in the rural areas to this day have not yet gained their citizenship and most of them are red IC card holders,” he said.

CSO Platform for Reform national programme coordinator Beverly Joeman added that Orang Asal groups have not been consulted over the proposed amendments.

The alliance also requested the government to include them in its consultation over the citizenship amendments.

Voice of the Children president Sharmila Sekaran said the alliance is looking forward to working with the ministry to end issues of citizenship in the country.

She expressed hope that the Home Ministry will hold off on tabling the bill in Parliament this coming week.

Hopefully, government backbenchers will voice their objection and votes will be counted instead of holding a voice vote, she said.

If the government insists on proceeding with the bill, the alliance will hold another meeting to discuss its next steps, she added.

This is aside from the welcomed amendment to grant Malaysian mothers equal status as fathers in conferring their citizenship to foreign-born children, she clarified. – Malaysiakini