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Press Statement on the Predicament Faced by Foreign Wives of Malaysian Citizens

Predicament Faced by Foreign Wives of Malaysian Men

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) would like to thank Michael Chong for highlighting a predicament faced by many foreign women who are married to Malaysian men (Maid may be forced to leave son – The Star, 23 July 2002).

It is peculiar that in a country like Malaysia which recognises guardianship rights of both mother and father as guaranteed in the amendment in October 1999 to the Guardianship Act 1961, we are still facing situations where the same rights are not being accorded to foreign women married to Malaysian men living in Malaysia.

Foreign wives of Malaysian men who are estranged from their husbands face numerous problems. These women as in the case of Pushpa Kumari, have to track down their husbands and get their husbands to cooperate. This is merely impossible and very stressful if the father is not easily traceable. Moreover, women leaving abusive relationship may be traumatised by having to return to the abuser to settle these matters.

In the interest to uphold the principle of nondiscrimination and justice, it is incumbent upon the Government to recognise that mothers should have the right to apply for travel documents or passport for their child. We urge the immigration authorities to relook current policies and make the necessary amendments to allow foreign women married to Malaysian men to apply for the necessary travel documents.

It is time that we also look at another quandary faced by foreign wives of Malaysian men. By policy, foreign wives are dependent on their husbands when applying for permanent residence status. The Immigration Department procedures require husbands to be present and they must consent to their wives’ applications for permanent residence status. They face deportation if their husbands refuse to support their applications for permanent residence status and their social visa expire.

These obstacles to obtaining permanent residence status deny women the right to remain in Malaysia, the country in which they have been a spouse and/or mother for several years. During the application-processing period, which may be quite lengthy, husbands may exert control over their foreign wives due to their wives’ dependency on their husbands’ support of their applications. In some circumstances, delays in processing foreign wives’ permanent residence applications again may result in women remaining in abusive relationships. These women are at the mercy of their husbands.

The discrimination delineated here clearly violates Article 15 (4) of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which requires that men and women be given the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile. They also violate Article 9 (2) of CEDAW, which requires that state grant women equal rights with men in respect to nationality of their children.

The recent amendment to Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution reflects the commitment of the Malaysian government to eliminate any form of discrimination based on the grounds of gender. In addition, Malaysia has acceded to both the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women.

There should be clear articulated policy regarding granting of permanent status applications and work permits for foreign spouses. The policy should treat both male and female citizens equally and not allow for wide administrative discretion, which owing to the current climate of societal attitudes may lead to continued discriminatory practices.

The Schedule II of the Federal Constitution should be amended to allow for both men and women to confer citizenship status on their children even if the child is born outside of Malaysia.

In view of all the arguments above, we urge the Government to take steps towards eliminating discrimination faced by foreign women married to Malaysian men.

Wathshlah G. Naidu
Law Reform Advocate
Women’s Aid Organisation

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