A Mother's Testimony: Baby Denied Travel Document Due to Gender Discrimination in Malaysia's Nationality Law

This is the testimonial of Mashithah Abdul Halim, a Malaysian woman who cannot access a travel document or identity documentation for her baby because Malaysia's nationality law denies women the same right as men pass nationality to their children born abroad.

Mashithah's tragic situation illustrates the compounded impact of gender discrimination in nationality laws in conflict contexts, as Mashithah's Syrian husband is also unable to obtain documentation for their baby due to the conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 2122 and other UN statements related to Women, Peace, and Security recognize women's exacerbated vulnerability in conflict and post-conflict situtations due to discriminatory citizenship laws - a fact sadly illustrated by Mashithah's story. 

Mashithah Abdul Halim's Testimony:

Greetings. My name is Mashithah Abdul Halim, a Malaysian citizen married to a Syrian citizen. I have four children. Three of my children are Malaysian citizens. Unfortunately, my fourth child does not have Malaysian citizenship. My [stateless] child is now five months old.

Before coming to Turkey, I had asked the National Registration Department (NRD) if I can obtain Malaysian citizenship for my child if born overseas. I was told by an officer ‘Can madam’. However, they did not tell me ‘Can madam, but it is not automatic’. So, I arrived in Turkey and, after giving birth to my son, I contacted the Embassy of Malaysia with the hope to obtain a Malaysian passport for my son. Unfortunately, the officer informed me that I can only apply for [my child’s] Malaysian citizenship, but I will not obtain a Malaysian passport for my son.

Before going to the Embassy of Malaysia, I inquired several times whether I can apply for an Emergency Certificate (‘Sijil Perakuan Cemas’) to bring my son to return to Malaysia. I was advised by the officer that the Emergency Certificate is only for Malaysian citizens and my son is not a Malaysian citizen. As such, he is not entitled to obtain the Emergency Certificate.

We went to Embassy of Malaysia in Turkey on September 19, 2019 to apply for Malaysian citizenship and we did not obtain the Emergency Certificate. I have written to the Home Affairs Ministry and, until today, I have not received a response. I have also written to the Immigration Department, NRD and Wisma Putra (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). One officer at Wisma Putra informed me that they are unable to assist and give any document for my son. The officer at the Embassy of Malaysia in Turkey informed me that I must apply for Syrian passport.

However, the situation does not allow my husband to apply for a Syrian passport for my son due to the continuous war in Syria. There is a possibility that my husband’s passport would be seized if he goes to the Syrian Consulate in Turkey. If he goes to Syria for this matter, he might be killed or kidnapped if he is found to have not completed the mandatory military Service in Syria.

In Turkey, a new born baby is given 180 days to live in Turkey without a visa. My son is aged 156 days and there is 24 days remaining, so time is critical. My son does not have a state - he is stateless.* If within this period I don’t receive any documents from Malaysia, I will be forced to apply for refugee status for my son here because without a visa or refugee status, my son will not have access to healthcare and other services.

As a Malaysian citizen, all women and I [should] have the right to obtain the same treatment like Malaysian men. We [should] have the right to confer our citizenship automatically to our children just like Malaysian men. Article 14 of the Federal Constitution must be amended to replace the word ‘father’ to either ‘father or mother’ is a Malaysia citizen. Malaysian women now are unlike Malaysian women at the time the Federal Constitution was drafted. Malaysian women have a career and they contribute towards the development of the country. They are not just following their husbands.

The situation I face should not have happened. At first, I felt depressed, shocked, sad and disappointed and I felt discriminated by my own country’s law system. I hope the amendment to Article 14 of the Federal Constitution will be done immediately so the situation where children become stateless like in my case will not happen again in the future.


*Though Mashithah's baby should have the right to his father's Syrian nationality, there is no viable way to get proof of the baby's nationality due to the Syrian conflict and gender discrimination in Malaysia's nationality law.