MUHYIDDIN REGIME A GOVT OF DIFFERENCE? FORGET IT – STATELESS CHILDREN BACK IN MALAYSIA’S RACIST ‘WORMHOLE’ AFTER BIG STRIDES FORWARD UNDER PAKATAN

New lobbying ways needed for M’sian women to get kids citizenship

Targeted and intensified lobbying must continue towards passing a constitutional amendment needed to secure equal rights for Malaysian men and women to confer nationality on their spouses and children, according to children’s rights advocates.

Panellists at a forum analysing strategies to address challenges faced by transnational families during Covid-19 today noted that their ongoing problems have intensified under border closures and travel restrictions.

Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh said the previous Pakatan Harapan administration had made some progress towards resolving the matter but the main barrier remains to be a conservative approach adopted by administrative gatekeepers within Putrajaya.

“Despite having the (former) deputy prime minister (Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail) as the women, family and community development minister, we were not able to get this changed, simply because of the gatekeepers.

“That’s why I said we need to find a new way to lobby, especially the home minister, because currently too much discretionary powers are placed in one man’s hands,” she added.

Yeoh shared that Wan Azizah’s engagements at the time only resulted in a promise by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, as then home minister, to expedite the process for Malaysian mothers seeking to register their child as a citizen.

Hannah Yeoh

 

However, she said the promise was only announced for new citizenship applications while there remains to be over 40,000 backlogged unresolved matters pending with the Immigration Department.

For couples staying abroad during the current Covid-19 pandemic, Yeoh noted that there could be cases of Malaysian women caught in unhappy marriages but they were left with no means to escape due to uncertainties over their children’s citizenship status.

By giving birth overseas, a Malaysian woman with a foreign spouse will be unable to confer Malaysian citizenship on her newborn.

The Federal Constitution only guarantees citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian fathers but is silent on children born overseas to Malaysian mothers.

Yeoh stated that she would continue to raise the matter in Parliament during upcoming debates for the Home Ministry’s budget, on top of urging civil society stakeholders to make themselves heard to the government.

Senior consultant paediatrician Dr Amar Singh, however, said a negative perception towards foreigners in Malaysia could render untenable efforts to rally public pressure on the needed policy changes.

On top of ongoing advocacy efforts by various local groups, he noted that there could also be a need to consider targeted lobbying of well-connected individuals.

“I am sorry, unfortunately, I have this habit of being too honest. The real jalan (way) is for you to whisper in somebody’s ear, (if) you got the cable and that person said ‘okay lah I will do it’.

“If you know somebody and the person likes you and you’re friends, you can get quite a lot done in the civil service to change policies, sadly,” he said.

“Perhaps we should look at who is the immigration director’s friend and lobby with that individual, whisper into his ears, maybe that would be a better approach,” he added.

 

Overall, Amar said the current state of enforced separation affecting transnational families could lead to various problems in a child.

“For those (children) who are separated (from a parent), their pain and anguish are intensified… Children feel less hopeful for their future and this hopelessness is not good to be instilled in a child’s heart.

“I don’t think online communication of any sort can replace the physical presence of a parent to a child,” he added.

In the long-term, Amar said a child could suffer from separation anxiety disorder and develop symptoms of depression, with increased risk of substance abuse in their adult years.

“Basically what you are crafting into a very young child’s being is an insecure dependent personality… Separating children from one family member is not a good idea and have long-term impacts,” he explained.

For non-citizen children with a Malaysian parent residing here, panellists at the virtual dialogue hosted by the Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG) also noted unresolved issues including denial of equal access to state healthcare and education.

Other panellists at the dialogue organised on World Children’s Day include FSSG co-founder Bima Ramanand and Suhakam Children’s Commissioner Noor Aziah Mohd Awal.  MKINI

Allow foreign spouses in to prevent stateless children, says Suhakam rep

PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) children’s commissioner has urged the government to review its entry ban from countries with a high number of Covid-19 cases so Malaysian mothers can return to the country with their foreign spouses.

Noor Aziah Mohd Awal said the pandemic had forced many mothers to choose between giving birth to a stateless child overseas or returning to Malaysia but being separated from their spouses for months.

“The uncertainty for children born to Malaysian mothers married to foreign spouses is really alarming. It will have long-term effects on the children when they grow older,” Noor Aziah said at a webinar by the Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG), held in conjunction with World Children’s Day, today.

FSSG co-founder Bina Ramanand said focus groups had found that many children born to Malaysian mothers were being raised in hotel rooms overseas without access to vaccination or education, six months into the movement control order (MCO).

She said 205 mothers had reported that their spouses were stranded overseas in August, with 44 of them either pregnant or raising their newborns without their fathers.

Noor Aziah said that under the Federal Constitution, Malaysian women giving birth abroad cannot confer their nationality on their children.

As a result, she said, many mothers had returned to Malaysia alone during the pandemic to ensure that their children were granted citizenship.

Failure to do so would require them to go through a lengthy application process, with low approval rates.

“The government should simplify the permanent residence and approval process to prevent hardship and economic difficulties to foreign spouses,” she said.

She said foreign spouses had to enter Malaysia on long-term social visit passes, which prohibited them from seeking employment for up to a year.

She urged Putrajaya to remove its limitations on employment for foreigners as it could have a negative impact on the livelihood of families and prevent economic growth in the country.

Former deputy women, family and community development minister Hannah Yeoh said lack of cooperation from the home ministry had led to a backlog of citizenship applications last year.

She said the home ministry under Muhyiddin Yassin during the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had only agreed to streamline new applications, leaving about 40,000 existing applications still pending.

“With the current set-up in Parliament, I do not think we will be able to see a proposed amendment brought by the home ministry in the near future,” she said, adding that the issue would be brought up during the debate for the ministry’s budget in two weeks.

Dr Amar Singh, a paediatrician and child rights advocate, said separation would have long-term effects on the mental health of families.

“More children and families are constantly anxious and depressed. Now that it has dragged on for months with the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been no real resolution,” he said.

“Children become less hopeful for the future and this hopelessness is not good for a young child. I don’t think online communication of any sort can replace the physical presence of a parent to a child.”

Amar said non-citizen children would also be denied access to education at public schools and routine immunisation. This would effectively reduce the country’s herd immunity and expose people to more illnesses. FREE MALAYSIA TODAY

MKINI / FREE MALAYSIA TODAY

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