“Breaking the Barrier: The Fight for Gender Equal Citizenship Rights for Malaysian Mothers and Their Overseas-Born Children

Melinda Anne Sharlini (Program Manager, Family Frontiers)

Malaysia’s citizenship laws have been a source of discrimination against women and children for decades. Under Malaysian citizenship laws, a child born outside Malaysia to a Malaysian man married to a foreigner is automatically granted citizenship, while a child born overseas to a Malaysian woman married to a foreigner is not. Malaysian men (married to foreigners) have the right to confer automatic citizenship on their overseas-born children [via Section 1(b) of Part II of the Second Schedule].

On the other hand, Malaysian women (married to foreigners) have to “apply” for their children’s citizenship via Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution, which is a difficult and inconsistent process, with a very slim chance of approval. Between 2018 & 22 June 2022, out of 3407 applications by Malaysian mothers under Article 15(2), only 19 were approved, and 7 were rejected, equating to an approval rate of less than 1% and less than 100 children securing citizenship by the age of 21.

The discriminatory citizenship law has a profound impact on the lives, rights, and welfare of impacted Malaysian women and their children. Non-citizen children of Malaysian women face unequal access to fundamental rights such as education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and social protection in Malaysia. The high cost of maintaining a non-citizen child in Malaysia puts a heavy burden on Malaysian mothers, particularly single parents.

Malaysian women are vulnerable to abusive marriages and domestic violence as they are forced to depend entirely on their husbands for their children’s legal status and access to rights. Children above the age of 21 are relegated to the status of a mere tourist, causing families to be separated, and leaving Malaysian women in constant fear of uncertainty and separation from their children.

Here are some lived experiences of impacted Malaysian mothers and children:

Dr Alison Wee, a Malaysian professor with a PhD in Biological Sciences, gave birth to her daughter in China while working there. The family returned to Malaysia in early 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alison and her daughter now reside in Malaysia, but faced tremendous difficulties during the pandemic due to her daughter’s lack of Malaysian citizenship. Her daughter only held a tourist visa, and they had to travel to the Malaysia-Thailand border during the pandemic to renew the visa. Alison’s daughter holds a Long-Term Social Visit Pass, which does not provide stability and security in Malaysia.

Dr Jennifer is a Malaysian mother who has a non-citizen child born outside of the country. She returned to Malaysia during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as a dental officer at the Ministry of Health (MOH). The process of renewing her daughter’s Long-Term Social Visit Pass was time-consuming and exhausting for Jennifer at that time, especially since she was the primary caregiver for her child in Malaysia while working full-time for MOH. Despite having the expertise and passion to serve in her country, Dr Jennifer had to make a difficult decision to leave Malaysia in August 2022 due to uncertainty regarding her child’s citizenship in Malaysia.

“I graduated from the Confucian Private Secondary School, where Lim Lian Geok used to teach. As a teenager, I was already familiar with his efforts fighting for citizenship rights. It’s disheartening that even after 38 years since his passing, we are still struggling to attain equal citizenship rights.”
— Dr Jennifer

Rachel Ng is a single mother and Malaysian citizen who is raising two children in Malaysia, one of whom is a Malaysian citizen while the other is not. Despite being a citizen herself, Rachel has faced bureaucratic challenges in raising her non-Malaysian child in Malaysia. This has resulted in difficulties in accessing basic services and rights for her child, as well as uncertainties about her child’s future in Malaysia.

To combat this inequality, six Malaysian mothers and Family Frontiers, an organisation advocating for the welfare of Malaysian binational families, filed a case in December 2020 challenging Malaysia’s gender-discriminatory citizenship laws. Despite the Government’s attempts to dismiss the case, in September 2021, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering that Malaysian women must have equal citizenship rights to confer citizenship on their children. However, the Government appealed the decision three days later. The Court of Appeal in August 2022 overturned the landmark Kuala Lumpur High Court decision. Family Frontiers has since been granted leave to appeal the decision at the Federal Court. As of now, only the six Malaysian mothers who are plaintiffs in the case have received their children’s citizenship while the rest wait.

On 18 February 2023, the Malaysian Cabinet took a significant step forward by deciding to amend the Federal Constitution to grant automatic Malaysian citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers. This move is the first step towards recognising the rights of Malaysian women and their children who have been discriminated against for decades. For the amendment to become a reality, the bill requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament as well as the consent of the Conference of rulers (as this is a matter concerning citizenship). This makes it crucial for all stakeholders to work together to ensure that the amendment is passed and implemented in a timely and effective manner.

About: The Association of Family Support & Welfare Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers) is a registered not-for-profit entity that was established with the aim of advancing, promoting and strengthening the family unit so that no family is left behind. It acts as an umbrella body for the Foreign Spouses Support Group, that supports and advocates for the rights of foreign spouses married to Malaysian citizens and mobilises action for the Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship.

Chinese Version

Dr Alison Wee
Dr Jennifer
Rachel Ng










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