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Malaysia Court Rules Women Can Pass Citizenship to Foreign-Born Children

FILE - A child wearing a face mask waits for a COVID-19 test outside a government apartment in Kampung Baru, a traditional Malay village in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 15, 2020.

Malaysia’s High Court has ruled in favor of a group of mothers who were seeking to pass on their Malaysian nationality to their children born overseas.

Malaysia’s constitution allows men the automatic right to pass on citizenship to any children born on foreign soil, but the same rights did not apply to women.

But High Court judge Akhtar Tahir ruled Thursday that the citizenship law on its own is discriminatory, and that it must be read together with another constitutional clause that outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender.

Supporters of the legal challenge said the citizenship law forced some Malaysian women to remain in abusive marriages in order to retain custody of their children. They also said children also faced obstacles in accessing public services such as education and health care.

The government had sought to have the women’s case dismissed. There was no immediate government response on Thursday’s decision by the High Court.

Family Frontiers Malaysia, a gender-equality advocacy group, hailed the court’s ruling in a written statement, calling it “one step forward to a more egalitarian and just Malaysia.”

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Agence France Presse.