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JAG: Withdraw Appeal against High Court Decision Granting Malaysian Women Equal Citizenship Rights

Press Release – 7 March 2022

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) strongly urges the Malaysian Government to withdraw its appeal against the Suriani Kempe case and grant Malaysian women equal citizenship rights with immediate effect.

September 9, 2021 marks a momentous day for our country when the Kuala Lumpur High Court in Suriani Kempe & Ors v Government of Malaysia & Ors ruled that women can confer citizenship on their overseas-born children on an equal basis as men. Yet, the government chose to appeal against the decision just three days later making it a long-drawn process. The Government continues to exhaust every possible judicial avenue to delay the High Court judgement’s implementation while Malaysian women wait years for their children to be accepted as citizens.

Malaysia acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995. Malaysia also sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council. In its response to the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls’ communication dated February 15, 2022, the Malaysian Government stated that it is “cognisant that this issue (of gender-discriminatory citizenship laws) involves the rights of women and children and these rights have been recognised by the High Court.” If that is indeed the case, then why does the Government continue to resist recognising women’s right to equal citizenship — a right that has been enjoyed by Malaysian men for the last 60 years?

The Government has placed obstacles at every step of the way — from attempts to strike out the case calling it “frivolous, scandalous and troublesome”, to filing an appeal and stay of execution against the landmark decision, and delaying the implementation of the judgement.

The Government holds the power to change the narrative of our history, and recognise women as equal citizens. But, they choose not to do so and willingly spend their resources and taxpayers’ money on delaying their own people’s rights.

The Fight for Women’s Equal Citizenship is Not Over

While the National Registration Department has issued citizenship certificates to three plaintiffs’ children, the fight for women’s equal citizenship rights is not over. The other three plaintiffs and Malaysian mothers who are not applicants have yet to receive their children’s documents. Feedback received by Family Frontiers from mothers who went to submit their documents demonstrates that there is a lack of procedural clarity among JPN branches and embassies or high commissions. The Government has also not yet withdrawn its appeal against the September 9, 2021 High Court judgment; the Court of Appeal will hear the case on March 23, 2022.

With these delays, there has been growing anxiety and uncertainty among impacted Malaysian mothers who are struggling to cope with the emotional rollercoaster and bureaucracy that the Government is putting them through. 

The Need for Urgent Implementation 

Each day that a Malaysian mother does not hear back on her child’s citizenship status is a day that she becomes more vulnerable to domestic violence; remains forcibly separated from her family; lives with the anxiety of not knowing what is in store for her children’s future; and suffers the financial drain of raising a non-Malaysian child from bearing the additional costs that result from constant visa and pass renewals — not to mention lengthy wait times and repeated applications for citizenship. 

Li Li is a Malaysian mother who is currently single-handedly raising her non-Malaysian child in Italy. Li Li had to deliver her child overseas in 2017 due to fear of miscarriage that she experienced during her first pregnancy. Having recently gone through a divorce, Li Li says she is left with no support system in Italy and is hoping to return to Malaysia where she can raise her child with the support of her family. However, she is constantly faced with the uncertainty that her child would have to struggle as a non-citizen in Malaysia without equal access to fundamental rights such as education and healthcare, including the possibility of family separation. 

These women deserve to enjoy the fruits of the High Court judgement and right to confer equal citizenship. 

Withdraw the Appeal and Uphold the High Court Judgement

Now, more than ever, it is crucial for the Government to accept the High Court judgement, withdraw the appeal, and expedite its implementation without further delay. So long as the appeal stands, Malaysian women and their children are denied their constitutionally-vested rights. Once and for all, end the struggles of Malaysian women, let them wear their Malaysian nationality with pride and raise their children like any other family.

Let justice prevail.


Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:

  1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  2. Association of Women’s Lawyer (AWL)
  4. Family Frontiers
  5. Justice for Sisters
  6. KRYSS Network
  7. Perak Women For Women (PWW)
  8. Sarawak Women For Women Society (SWWS)
  9. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  10. Tenaganita
  11. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
  12. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  13. Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO)
  14. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
About JAG:

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is a coalition of 14 women’s rights organisations in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak. Since 1985, we have been advocating for gender equality and social justice in Malaysia within a feminist framework. We leverage on our diverse expertise and amplify women’s voices to raise public awareness and advocate for law reform. We uphold international human rights standards in promoting justice, equality, and non-discrimination.