House endorses bill to amend Citizenship ActOnce the bill gets through upper house, children of parents who got citizenship by birth will get citizenship by descent.
The House of Representatives on Friday endorsed a bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 2006 through a majority vote amid reservations from the main opposition CPN-UML.
The bill, once it gets through the National Assembly, will open the door for thousands of children of the parents who got citizenship by birth to acquire citizenship by descent. All eligible Nepalis born before September 20, 2015, the day when the Constitution of Nepal was promulgated, were granted naturalised citizenship. However, their children haven’t got citizenship in the absence of a law as the constitution said the provision to grant them citizenship would be guided by a federal law. The federal law hasn’t been prepared even seven years after the promulgation of the statue. Some 190,000 persons had acquired naturalised citizenship by birth.
Once the amendment gets through the upper house, one born to a Nepali woman in Nepal and whose father is unidentified would get citizenship by descent. However, the applicant’s mother must make a self-declaration that the father is not identified. She will be liable for action if it is found that her claim that the father of her issue is not identified turns out to be wrong.
The bill also paves the way for Non-Resident Nepalis to acquire citizenship. However, they will not be eligible to enjoy the political and administrative rights.
The endorsement of the amendment bill, without revision, was possible after the CPN (Maoist Centre) backtracked on its position to have some years as cooling period before granting naturalised citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Nepali man.
Whether to grant naturalised citizenship to foreign women married to Nepali men once they start the process to renounce the citizenship of the country of their origin was the most contentious issue the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of Parliament had to resolve. As consensus continued to elude, the committee in June 2020 endorsed a bill to amend the Act with a provision that foreign women married to Nepali men will have to wait for seven years for naturalisation.
Despite reservations from the Nepali Congress, then Rastriya Janata Party and the Samajbadi Party, the bill was endorsed in the House committee with a majority vote by lawmakers of the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) formed after a merger between the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre).
The three parties were for retaining the provision of granting citizenship once the woman started the process to renounce citizenship of her country.
NCP lawmakers argued that as India takes seven years to grant citizenship to foreign women married to Indian men, Nepal too should have a similar provision. Because of serious differences among the major parties, the House of Representatives never put the bill to vote.
Two years later, the government on July 8 withdrew the bill from the House and registered a new one retaining the provision to grant citizenship to foreign women married to Nepali men once she starts the process to give up citizenship of her country.
The Maoist Centre, which voted to have a cooling-off period in the House committee in 2020, now has stood for granting citizenship once the woman starts the process to give up the citizenship of the country of her origin. While the UML lawmakers had no reservations on the other provisions in the bill, they demanded a cooling period before granting citizenship. They had registered amendments demanding a seven-year cooling period but their amendments were rejected by the House.
“All the countries in the South Asian region have certain cooling periods before granting citizenship. We object to the bill that opens the door to provide citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Nepali man immediately after she starts the process to give up her citizenship,” said Khagaraj Adhikari, a UML lawmaker, in the House.
Some UML leaders had said there should be similar provisions to grant citizenship to foreign women married to Nepali men and foreign men married to Nepali women. As per the bill, foreign men married to Nepali women must have lived for 15 years continuously in Nepal, denounced the citizenship of their country of origin, and be able to speak Nepali language to qualify for naturalisation.
“The bill has been introduced with the mindset that women married to foreign men must leave Nepal. This is against the right to equality and a manifestation of patriarchal mindset,” said Binda Pandey, while taking part in the deliberations on the bill on Friday. “Equality must prevail.”
Legal experts say the provision in the bill is discriminatory. They say that there must be equality in granting citizenship. In the United States, for instance, both spouses are treated equally regardless of their gender, and the spouse of a US citizen who has resided in the country with his or her citizen spouse for at least three years can apply for naturalisation.
“It is good that the House of Representatives has endorsed the bill which, if ratified by the upper house, will do justice to thousands of people waiting for citizenship for years,” Sabin Shrestha, director at the Forum for Women, Law and Development, a non-governmental organisation, advocating for the rights of women and marginalised communities, told the Post. “However, it has several discriminatory provisions while some even contradict the constitution.”
Article 11 (5) of the constitution says a person who is born in Nepal of a woman who is a citizen of Nepal and has resided in Nepal and whose father is unidentified shall be provided the citizenship of Nepal by descent. It further says citizenship by descent will be converted into naturalised citizenship if his/her father is found to be a foreign citizen. However, against the constitutional provision, the bill has a provision of taking punitive action against the mother if the father is found.
Human rights experts say the bill also has failed to ensure citizenship with identity of descent and gender. Article 12 of the constitution says a person who obtains the citizenship of Nepal by descent in accordance with the Constitution may obtain a certificate of citizenship of Nepal with gender identity in the name of his or her mother or father. However, the bill doesn’t include the provision. “Getting citizenship with identity is a constitutional right,” advocate Mohna Ansari, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “It is sad that the government is reluctant to implement constitutional provisions.”
She, however, said the bill has paved the way for thousands who are stateless to acquire citizenship.
Urging the lawmakers to vote for the bill, Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand said despite their efforts no consensus could be forged on marital naturalised citizenship. “Granting citizenship to the children of parents who got citizenship by birth is the main objective of the bill,” he said. “Let us endorse it unanimously.”