House panel endorses bill to amend Citizenship Act amid objections from three partiesOpposing parties and rights activists call seven-year rule for foreign women married to Nepali men to get naturalised citizenship a regressive move.
Tika R Pradhan
Amid objections from three major parties, the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee on Sunday endorsed an amendment bill on the Citizenship Act 2063, with the provision that foreign women married to Nepali men will have to wait for seven years to acquire naturalised citizenship.
The House committee had been debating the bill for the last two years. The committee went ahead with the seven-year provision after the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) took a decision to that effect on Saturday.
“The citizenship amendment bill has been endorsed by majority votes,” said Shashi Shrestha, chair of the committee. “A foreign woman married to a Nepali man will be granted naturalised citizenship after her continuous stay in Nepal for seven years.”
In the 27-member committee, the ruling party holds a majority with 16 members. The Nepali Congress has six members and the Rastriya Janata Party and the Samajbadi Party have two members each. Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, which has one member, called for an even stricter provision of 15 years.
Of the 27 members, eight, including committee chair Shrestha, are women.
The Nepali Congress, Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal had opposed the provision, calling it unconstitutional and saying that it goes against the provision of the interim constitution 2006, as per which the Citizenship Act 2063 allowed foreign women to acquire naturalised citizenship after getting married to Nepali men.
According to Clause 5.1 of the Citizenship Act, foreign women are immediately eligible for citizenship upon marriage to a Nepali man while there are no provisions for a foreign man who marries a Nepali woman, requiring foreign men to spend a minimum of 15 years in Nepal before being eligible to apply for naturalised citizenship.
The House committee on Sunday did not discuss the issue of foreign men marrying Nepali women.
Earlier on Sunday, a meeting of the office bearers of the Nepali Congress had decided to register a note of dissent if the ruling party pushed the amendment bill in the parliamentary committee.
In its five-point note, the party has said the provision in the Nepal Citizenship Act, 2006 regarding the naturalised citizenship for foreign women who enter into matrimony with Nepali men must continue.
“The Nepali Congress demands that the proposed amendments on the bill should be made as per earlier provisions of the Nepal Citizenship Act, 2006, which was adopted as per an understanding among the political parties,” reads the statement signed by six Congress lawmakers–Dilendra Badu, Amresh Kumar Singh, Binod Chaudhary, Devendra Raj Kandel, Mina Pande and Dila Sangroula Panta.
Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, however, said that the issue of naturalised citizenship has to do more with the country’s security than the rights of an individual.
“Naturalised citizenship is linked with the country’s progress and existence rather than individuals’ rights,” Thapa said at the meeting.
The Congress, however, has said that the change in the previous provision of the marital naturalised citizenship will bring a constitutional crisis, as Article 289 of the charter allows naturalised citizens to take part in politics except assuming the top positions including President, Vice President, prime minister, Speaker, chairman of the National Assembly and chief minister.
The parliamentary committee has included a provision that foreign women married to Nepali men would be provided with an identity card of a permanent resident allowing them to enjoy economic, social and cultural rights until they receive naturalised citizenship.
“Until citizenship is granted, authorities could provide a document of permanent residence to foreign women married to Nepali men on the basis of which they can enjoy economic, social and cultural rights,” Shrestha, the committee chair, told the members.
The Congress party, however, said the committee’s decision on the basis of majority also violates the principle of consensus.
“The Citizenship Act 2063 was drafted in consensus and the constitutional provision allows political rights, except some positions, for people having naturalised citizenship,” said Dilendra Badu, a Congress member of the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee. “A single party cannot change the provision that was adopted in the consensus of all parties.”
Rights activists have termed the seven-year requirement for foreign women married to Nepali men as a regressive move.
“The issue of citizenship is linked with an individual’s human rights. Such a faulty provision means women would be deprived of their basic human rights,” said Mohna Ansari, a member of the National Human Rights Commission. “This provision is not only against the spirit of the constitution that ensures equality but also against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Rights activists have also pointed at problems that children of foreign women married to Nepali men could face in case their relationship gets strained before the seven-year period. According to them, this could make such children stateless.
There are also concerns about the House committee treating foreign women and foreign men married to Nepali citizens differently. According to rights activists, the provision that a foreign man has to wait for 15 years after marrying a Nepali woman to obtain Nepali citizenship shows how the state still continues to treat women as second-class citizens, with fewer privileges for her compared to Nepali men.
Some women leaders from the ruling party, who took an exception to the decision taken by an all-male nine-member Secretariat on an issue that concerns women, have said there is a need to take decisions by treating women and men as equals.
“We have been urging the parties that the relevant clause should not say ‘man’ or ‘woman’ but ‘citizen’, so as not to discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex,” Binda Pandey, a ruling party lawmaker and rights activist, told the Post on Saturday after her party decided to go for the seven-year provision. “The clause must say—‘any foreign citizen marrying a Nepali citizen’.”
In an interview with the Post last year, Pandey had said women are being denied equal rights in the name of national security and sovereignty, an argument Home Minister Thapa made on Sunday.
According to Ansari, the national security premise when it comes to citizenship to women is wholly flawed.
“One should speak with certain facts, if there are any; one cannot just point at national security, undermining women’s rights,” Ansari told the Post.
On Saturday, Manchala Jha, a former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, also questioned the rationale behind the seven-year rule.
“I am curious about the basis for seven-year provision for naturalised citizenship. If the question is nationalism, what’s the guarantee that one becomes a nationalist after seven years?” Jha wrote on Twitter. “And how many women with naturalised citizenship have been traitors in the past? Anyway there are constitutional provisions for high political posts.”
According to Badu, the provision of granting permanent resident cards to forein women married to Nepali men while they wait for their naturalised citizenship for seven years is something the present constitution does not recognise.
“For such a provision to be introduced, the constitution itself needs to be amended,” Badu told the Post.
Rajendra Mahato of the Rastriya Janata Party also said the seven-year rule is against the spirit of the constitution.
“It is an attack on the sentiments of millions of people living in the bordering areas where people from both sides naturally have matrimonial relationships,” said Mahato. “It seems Singha Durbar is for breaking people-to-people relations.”