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Gendered citizenship

DEC 12 - After the interim order of the Supreme Court directing the Election Commission to exclude the names of those not holding proof of citizenship from the voter list, citizenship has, once again, become a hot topic in Nepal’s political arena. Though this article does not argue whether or not citizenship should be the major basis for voter registration, it does bring up another relevant issue of citizenship in Nepal: gender discrimination. 

Citizenship is the identity of a person that mediates an individual’s relationship with the country and vice versa. In the Nepali context, it is a pre-requisite to enter many aspects of social and economic life. The right to citizenship—the primary means of personal identification—is also a fundamental right of any individual. Apart from identification, citizenship is considered a gateway for individual entitlement of services and benefits to be provided by the state. Research conducted a few years back on the problems of citizenship in the Tarai (case studies were conducted in Morang and Sunsari), found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents (70 percent) had faced various problems due to lack of citizenship, especially when trying to attain higher education and scholarships, foreign employment, starting a business and holding property due to the lack of a citizenship certificate. And the issue of citizenship is not just a problem in the Tarai. Because men and women have different and unequal access to citizenship in Nepal, it is also gender biased.

All the international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966; Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979; and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, have ensured the right to citizenship and strongly advocate for the elimination of any kind of discrimination in acquiring citizenship. However even since the enactment of the Citizenship Act in 2009, discrimination against women has still existed while granting citizenship. The Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007, which was promulgated in the aftermath of historic People Movement-II, has also discriminated against women in this regard.

In the process of drafting a new constitution, the High-level Political Task Force (HPTF) constituted to resolve the differences contained in the reports of various thematic committees within the Constituent Assembly on Nov. 4, 2010. Various women’s rights organisations have expressed their serious concern over their decision. Women networks like Woman Alliance for Peace, Power, Democracy and Constituent Assembly (WAPPDCA), Shanti Malika and Women Security Pressure Group have recently cautioned the concerned agencies through the media stating that no gender discrimination will prevail in the new constitution while granting citizenship.

As per the decision made by the HPTF, both father and mother should be citizens of Nepal in order to obtain citizenship by descent. Similarly, if any man of foreign nationality married to a Nepali woman wishes to obtain citizenship through naturalisation process based on their marital relationship, he should have been permanently resident in Nepal for at least 15 years. But this does not apply in the case of woman of foreign nationality. Any woman married to a Nepali man, can obtain such citizenship soon after she renounces the citizenship of her previous country. It is discriminatory even in the case of children. A person, whose father’s whereabouts are not identified, may be granted citizenship by descent. But in the case of the identification of the father being of a foreign nationality, the citizenship of such a person shall be transformed to a naturalised (angikrit) one. As these provisions have perpetuated discrimination against women in their right to citizenship and created a situation where children are forced to remain stateless persons, the authorities concerned with ensuring equal citizenship rights for women in the forthcoming constitution must take note. The rights organisations have also demanded that any person, whose father or mother is a citizen of Nepal should be able to obtain citizenship by descent.

Likewise, a child born to a female Nepali citizen with an unidentified father may obtain citizenship by descent on the sole basis of the mother’s citizenship. In the case of adoption of a child by a female Nepali, the adopted child should be entitled to obtain citizenship by descent on the sole basis of the adoptive mother’s citizenship. In the case of a woman or a man of foreign nationality married

to a Nepali citizen, he or she may be entitled to obtain Nepali citizenship by naturalisation two years after the renunciation of the citizenship of their country of origin.

Likewise, any child born abroad while her/his mother is employed should be entitled to obtain citizenship by descent irrespective of her/his

place of birth. Every child, who is found within the territory of Nepal and

whose father or mother is unidentified should also be able to obtain

citizenship by descent until the whereabouts of her/his father or mother is known. In this regard, women lawmakers need to play vital role to ensure equal rights to citizenship in the new constitution. As they have one-third representation in the Constituent Assembly, it is not possible to pass discriminatory provisions without their support. For this, there should be unity among them and they may even need to violate the party’s whip.

Along with ensuring equal citizenship rights in the upcoming constitution, it is also important that attention be paid to the implementation of these rights. Each district should keep systematic and scientific records of birth, citizenship, death, and marriage. This information should be retrieved from other districts so that people, such as the internally displaced, orphans, married women and migrants don’t face difficulties in the absence of their parent’s citizenship.  Administrative drawbacks and negligence of the concerned officials also hinder the process of acquiring citizenship.

In the past, many people were unaware of the importance of citizenship and did not even apply. This has created further hurdles as their children try to register their citizenship. Many women have not obtained citizenship due to a lack of simple legal knowledge to counter the tricks and frauds committed on the part of their male counterparts. Hence, it is desirable that a massive legal literacy campaign be initiated with the help desk in each district. The government officials in all District Administrative Offices need to be trained on human

rights and trained on the effective implementation of citizenship law and ways to reduce procedural hurdles. Awareness programmes need to be conducted among the general public, especially in rural areas as they are not well sensitised towards the importance of citizenship.

(Dhital is business reporter with Kantipur)

Posted on: 2010-12-13 08:12

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