Challenges faced by Malaysian women with children born overseas during the Covid-19 crisis

Malaysia is one of twenty-five countries that denies women and men the equal right to confer nationality on their children. Malaysian men have the right to confer nationality on children born abroad through registration. Malaysian women lack this same right and must apply for their children to acquire citizenship, often waiting for years for a response and with the possibility of rejection without explanation. Malaysia is one of three countries that deny men equal rights with women to confer nationality on a child born outside of legal marraige. It is also one of approximately fifty countries that denies women equal rights with men to confer nationality on a non-national spouse. Gender discrimination in nationality laws is a root cause of statelessness in Malaysia and in countries around the globe. 

Statement by Foreign Spouses Support Group, which leads the Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship.

1. Malaysian woman with a stateless child:

A Malaysian woman living overseas with her stateless child is facing difficulties overseas as they are not receiving support from the foreign Government. She also cannot return to Malaysia due to her child being stateless. She fears that if she returns to Malaysia, her child will not be given the same rights as other Malaysian children, especially in terms of access to healthcare and education.

2. Pregnant Malaysian women overseas:

Pregnant Malaysian women are facing difficulties entering Malaysia during this Movement Control Order (MCO) to deliver their children in Malaysia. Children born overseas to Malaysian women are not automatically Malaysian citizens upon registration (unlike children born overseas to Malaysian men), which also means that these children will not get Malaysian citizenship. Furthermore, during this time, it is also difficult for their non-citizen husbands to accompany them to Malaysia.

Anyone entering Malaysia during the Movement Control Order (MCO) would also be required to quarantine in Government centres for 14 days. During this period, visas are not being issued to foreign husbands of Malaysian women to return to Malaysia with them, making the situation difficult.

A Malaysian woman overseas has to undergo her pregnancy alone as she neither has any female family member in Dubai to care for her, nor can she invite her Malaysian mother to travel to Dubai due to restrictions.

Similarly, another Malaysian woman who has been struggling with anxiety during her pregnancy has given birth overseas as her husband who is not on the spouse visa would not have been allowed to enter Malaysia during the MCO.

Another Malaysian woman overseas who is pregnant says, “I was planning to give birth in Malaysia but because of the Coronavirus, travels are restricted. I might not have a choice to give birth in Malaysia which is a pity for my baby. Because Malaysian women are not able to obtain automatic Malaysian citizenship (upon registration) for their own children, this is just getting more and more impossible.”

Laws that are gender-discriminatory make women more vulnerable during times of crisis. In the case of Malaysia’s discriminatory citizenship law, women are left with no choice but to give birth overseas at the cost of not being able to automatically confer citizenship on their children and have to rely on a tedious application process fraught with delays and rejections, without any guarantee to Malaysian citizenship.

3. Non-Malaysian children born overseas to Malaysian women who are not able to acquire Malaysian citizenship are not given long term visas if the child’s foreign father is not present during the registration.

This has resulted in an unfortunate situation during this Covid-19 Outbreak whereby Malaysian women are choosing to stay back in countries with rapid cases of Covid-19 such as Italy, South Korea and USA with their children rather than return to Malaysia due to the fact that their non-citizen husbands and children will be only provided short term visas, which are not available during the travel ban.

3.1. Spouses of Malaysians overseas not allowed to return to Malaysia:

According to the initial clarification by the Government of Malaysia, spouses and children of a Malaysian resident are allowed to enter Malaysia on condition that they have a long term social visit pass (LTSVP) and are required to undergo 14 days of self-quarantine . However, the announcements that followed included stringent measures such as mandatory quarantine in Government quarantine centres .

As the conditions put forth by the Government requires that spouses and children have an LTSVP, many Malaysian women living overseas have reported that their children and husbands would not be able to enter the country should they decide to return as a family.

A Malaysian woman living overseas with two children said “Both my children are Malaysians. My husband does not have a residence pass. We have no choice but to stay in Kenya (although) our preference would have been to be in KL at this time.”

In certain cases, the foreign husbands of these Malaysian women may be working overseas as they face restrictions in terms of securing job opportunities while being on a spouse visa in Malaysia. As the order only allows for spouses with a spouse visa to enter Malaysia, there may be a case of family separation in this situation.

3.2. Malaysian woman unable to repatriate with her child:

A Malaysian woman chose to remain in Italy instead of repatriate to Malaysia although the Covid-19 situation was escalating there. This was because of the uncertainty surrounding the legal identity of her daughter - her daughter does not hold a Malaysian citizenship as she was born overseas but has an application that is currently “in process”. She says staying in the foreign country provides more security for her child and herself, as they are allowed to be there on a long term basis unlike in Malaysia where her non-Malaysian daughter gets shorter term visas.

4. Divorce - Vulnerability to Domestic Violence

The Covid-19 situation and MCOs also make it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. A Malaysian woman living overseas who is undergoing a divorce shared her experience; she said “... my spouse attempted to sell the house and move us out (during the pandemic). I have to resist lots of pain and constant verbal abuse and humiliation in front of our kids. (I had) asked for protection but courts are closed, (hence) there is a delay in the procedure.”

As her children are non-Malaysians, the limited options for her as a Malaysian woman to confer citizenship on her children born overseas creates additional barriers for her in times of crisis as she is forced to rely on her foreign husband for citizenship of her child.

5. Special Needs Child

A Malaysian woman with a 4-year old non-Malaysian child with development delay cannot resume occupational therapy due to the MCO. Her child relies on therapy from a private institution as they cannot access public therapy due to her status as a non-Malaysian.

6. Application for Government aid during Covid-19 crisis: Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN)

The Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) is a Government aid as part of the Prihatin Rakyat economic stimulus package by the Malaysian Government. However, the eligibility requirements for Malaysians in transnational marriages are unclear, which include Malaysian women married to foreign men with children born overseas.

While the applications of some women were approved, most other women currently await the result of the application. Some women however were unable to apply via the online portal as they were notified to make a manual application at the counter (which would not be possible during the MCO).


A. The Government of Malaysia should allow Malaysian women to confer citizenship on their children and spouses on an equal basis as Malaysian men, especially to children born overseas during the MCO as a temporary measure until full equality in enshrined in the citizenship law.
B. Review issues pertaining to Long Term Visas of non-citizen children and accept Malaysian mothers as equal guardians without the requirement of the presence of the foreign father for visa approval or renewal.
C. Offer Permanent Residence (PR) status to children of Malaysians once the child is on the Long Term Social Visit Visa. This facility should be approved within six (6) months of submission of application and granted until the age of 18. This will enable the children access to health care and education on an equal basis as Malaysian children.