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Make Living in Mixed Marriages Easier

Marriages across ethnicity, faith and nationality is increasing with communities more mobile and global. It is time to review how to support such families is the view of Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS).

Recently SWWS held a forum entitled Mixed Marriages: Women’s Rights where participants heard from Erin Aronnyzer Sineng-Jamelin who shared her intercultural story after marrying a French national and Wendy Terang who spoke on the aspect of local adat when there is cross-cultural marriage.

Both speakers and the audience gave numerous examples of how the legal frameworks and current procedures make life difficult for people who have fallen in love across jurisdictions. Malaysian women face discrimination as there is still a prevalent attitude that they should follow their foreign husbands not vice versa and a disbelief that the men are marrying for love and not to gain entry to the country.

Erin highlighted how difficult it was to find clear information on the procedures to follow especially as Federal and State did not combine their regulations into one document. In her experience there were also sudden changes in the information given making it hard for those applying for visas to navigate their way through the system. She noted it was also a costly process and the restrictions husbands faced to find work added to the financial pressure.

The near impossibility to gain permanent residence for foreign male partners also needs to be reviewed, according to SWWS, as this creates pressure and discrimination on those couples wishing to raise their families in the wife’s place of birth.

Sarawakians marrying Sarawakians across cultures also face legal difficulties when it comes to the ethnic designation of their children and inheritance of their native parent’s land. Until recently it was assumed children of native and non-native civil or customary marriage followed their father’s ethnic identity which discriminated against their mother’s and could be counter to how the children experienced their cultural identity.

Now, following a court case, whether it is the mother or the father who is native, the children face difficulties over their status. This needs to be fairly and speedily resolved to take account of current realities and concerns. This will require relooking at the Law, namely the Interpretation Ordinance.

Participants shared distressing examples where people who had assumed they were native discovered administratively they were not. Although there’s a system of applying to the native court to determine their native identity, the outcome can take 10 years or more showing the need for reform. It is imperative such applications are dealt with speedily as delay affects children’s education and inheritance.

With the completion of the Women for Progress series of Forums, SWWS will compile and publish a list of areas needing attention in the new year. This will include a call for a review of current laws in relation to mixed marriages so women are treated equally to men and that they and their children are empowered to maintain their cultural identity and all this implies.