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Family Frontiers president Suriani Kempe is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Family Frontiers president Suriani Kempe is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — The High Court today has disallowed the Malaysian government’s bid to stay the proceedings of a lawsuit by several Malaysian mothers who want their children born abroad to automatically become Malaysian citizens.

The Association of Family Support and Welfare Selangor & KL (Family Frontiers), via its president Suriani Kempe, said they welcomed the decision by the High Court to grant the merits of the case to be heard at a later date pending the government’s appeal to strike out an earlier judgment by the High Court to hear the case.

“The group is extremely encouraged by the decision of the High Court, especially in such a time of uncertainty.

“It is important for Malaysian mothers to know that the court continues to provide them with a space to be heard, and see the court recognise the significance and weight of this case to Malaysian families,” Suriani, who is also one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement here.

It added lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar, who is representing the group, had during today’s proceedings questioned the need for delay before emphasising the severity of the cases which has impacted many families.

“For over 60 years, many Malaysian mothers and their children have suffered from the inequality in citizenship laws, forcing them to rely on an arduous citizenship application process via Article 15(2) that is discretionary, fraught with delays, repeated rejections without reasons, inconsistencies and no guarantee of securing citizenship. 

“The inequality in the law negatively impacts both Malaysian women (compromising their autonomy in the private and public sphere and keeping them in hostile or toxic marriages overseas) and their non-citizen children in their access to fundamental rights such as healthcare and education, and the likelihood of being torn apart from their families once they turn 21. 

“Malaysia remains only one of 25 countries that do not allow women to automatically confer their citizenship on to their children. Today, gender discrimination is no longer tolerated; Malaysian women’s right to equality in the eye of the law is long overdue,” the group said.

A check on the Federal Court of Malaysia e-Filing Systems showed that the virtual hearing was presided over by High Court judge Datuk Akhtar Tahir earlier this morning.

Aktar had previously dismissed the government’s application to strike out the lawsuit in May, rejecting the government’s argument that the court case was frivolous.

Instead of striking out the lawsuit before it can be heard in court on its merits, the judge decided that he will hear the case on substantive issues before ruling on it.

Subsequent to the High Court decision in May, the government filed an appeal the following day at the Court of Appeal to overturn the High Court ruling, scheduled for an August 20 hearing.

In response, Family Frontiers said they were appalled and disappointed by Putrajaya’s decision, and accused the government of turning a blind eye to the plight of mothers whose children cannot return home to Malaysia as citizens and are struggling to be united with their mothers due to travel restrictions.

Following the dismissal of the government’s stay application today, the High Court fixed August 24 to hear the merits of the case pending the decision at the Court of Appeal.

On December 18, 2020, Family Frontiers via its president Suriani Kempe and six other Malaysian women had filed the lawsuit via an originating summons, seeking six specific court orders including declarations that Section 1(b) and Section 1(c) are discriminatory and in violation of the Federal Constitution’s Article 8. Article 8 disallows gender discrimination in any law against Malaysian citizens.

They also want a declaration that Section 1(b) and Section 1(c) be read harmoniously with Article 8(2) to include Malaysian mothers as a condition for children born abroad to be given automatic Malaysian citizenship. 

Currently, Malaysian mothers who are married to foreigners have to apply for their children born abroad to have Malaysian citizenship, a process that is said to typically take years before the Malaysian government responds and with no guarantee that the child would become a citizen as the government can reject such applications. 

In comparison, Malaysian fathers would be able to confer their citizenship to children who are born abroad, which means they are automatically recognised as citizens and do not have to go through the same arduous process of applying for citizenship.

Among other things, the Malaysian mothers in this lawsuit are also seeking a court order for all relevant government agencies including the National Registration Department, Immigration Department and Malaysian embassies to issue citizenship documents (including passports and identity cards) to children born abroad to Malaysian mothers with foreign spouses.

The six Malaysian mothers are Myra Eliza Mohd Danil, Adlyn Adam Teoh, Choong Wai Li, Ng Mei Mei as well as two others whose names are being withheld for privacy purposes.

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