Citizenship debate has reached another low, rights activists sayNew provisions in the citizenship amendment bill could further limit equal citizenship rights for women.
The debate over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was registered in Parliament over a year and a half ago, rages on. This week, it was over the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee’s decision to pass a controversial provision that would penalise women for failing to correctly identify the father’s identity while passing on citizenship to their children.
The provision in the bill states that a woman can be sentenced to prison for six months to a year-and-a-half and fined Rs25,000 to Rs100,000 if she fails to correctly identify the father of the child. The person wrongly identified as the father will also share the penalty.
Last March, the committee, chaired by Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader Sashi Shrestha, agreed on a provision which states that a child can obtain citizenship by descent through the mother’s name in cases where the father’s identity is unknown, after the applicant provides an explanation and if the government maintains an official record stating the same.
But activists and human rights advocates say that these provisions are not just problematic but are an attack on women’s dignity.
“So now is it a crime to be a Nepali mother? Both the provisions, which require women to disclose the father’s identity while passing citizenship to her child and the penalty associated with it, need to go,” said Sabin Shrestha, executive director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development, which has represented several cases where children of Nepalis have faced statelessness because of the delay over a decision in citizenship laws.
The new controversies in the bill, which threaten to make citizenship laws more regressive, go against the spirit of the constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
“How can the government celebrate the upcoming Constitution Day with so much fanfare when legal provisions still don’t treat women as equal to men,” said Shrestha.
Nepal is one of the 27 countries in the world with unequal citizenship laws that limit women’s rights to pass on citizenship to a child or a non-citizen spouse. More than four million Nepalis who are eligible for citizenship do not have the certificates, according to a 2013 study by the Forum for Women, Law and Development.
Among them are the children of Nepali women, who might have been born out of rape, either at home or while working abroad. And for those women, disclosing the name of the father of their child should be a personal choice, rather than legal compulsion, says Manju Gurung of Pourakhi, an organisation for women migrant workers which receives dozens of cases where Nepali women return home with unwanted pregnancies, or with children born out of such pregnancies.
“These new provisions in the bill further victimise women on multiple levels, making it more difficult for them to pass on citizenship to their children,” said Gurung.
The bill, which seeks to amend the 2006 Citizenship Act, was tabled in June 2018 and attracted widespread criticism from activists and lawmakers for its failure to address unequal provisions in the current Act.
Following the bill’s presentation in the House, lawmakers had registered 23 amendments to the bill, which are now being discussed in the committee.
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