5 MIN READ
The fight against Nepal’s discriminatory citizenship laws began in the 1990s but those provisions continue to prevail. Back then, the acquisition of citizenship was only possible through patriarchal lineage; today, a similar tendency continues. Although there are provisions for citizenship through women, the entire process comes with many roadblocks that are near to impossible to clear. Children seeking to receive citizenship through their mothers are often denied the right to citizenship, which in turn leads to all kinds of deprivation. These children robbed of their national identities and the freedom to live an independent life.
A dialogue that took place recently with individuals seeking to receive their citizenship via their mothers, facilitated by the organization Political Literacy for Women, explored identity deprivation and its consequences. Through these interactions, several recurring challenges and trends came to the fore.
First, the implementation of the 2006 Citizenship Act remains inconsistent and arbitrary. While provisions in the constitution guarantee citizenship via mothers in Articles 11 2(b) and 11 (5), these provisions have not translated into real action. When granting citizenship through mothers, local government officials consistently demand the presence of the child’s father or proof of his identity, regardless of the constitution’s guarantee that children receive citizenship through their mother or father. The same was expected from one of the interlocutors in our dialogue programme who attempted to apply for citizenship through her single mother. She was determined to acquire her citizenship without her absent father's name on it but instead, she was rejected twice. She was only granted citizenship on her third attempt — after submitting proof of her father’s identity.
Nowhere in the constitution’s Article 11(5)Article 11 (2) (b) does it state that one must provide proof of the father’s identity while receiving citizenship through the mother. Requiring proof of the father's identity before granting citizenship is an indication of an outright refusal to accept the autonomy of women, reinforcing androcentric norms.
Second, Chief District Officers, who are the government representatives in charge of providing recommendations for citizenship, have routinely refused to provide an official recommendation for individuals who wish to acquire citizenship through their mothers.
“The ward officials empathize with me and say that they want to write me a recommendation but their hands are tied because there are no supporting laws,” said one of the participants in our dialogue program.
Supporting laws, namely amendments to the 2006 Citizenship Act, have yet to be passed by the federal Parliament, delaying the process of delivering basic rights to citizens.
Sometimes, rejections are accompanied by deeply offensive remarks. One participant who attempted to apply for citizenship through her single mother shared her harrowing experience at the ward office. After approaching ward officials for the third time, one of them had this to say:
“How can a child be born without a father? Why does this child want citizenship without her father's name on it? If such demands continue, it will corrupt our long-lived practices and customs.”
Despite the fact that material culture has advanced over time, especially with regards to the constitution, non-material culture, such as norms that deem women inferior to men, continues to remain static, leading to a “cultural lag”, as proposed by sociologist William F Ogburn. It is only when society at large begins to accept that a woman’s identity is not tied to the identity of a man that it will be possible to break with this lag.
The third problem explored were the conditions that make one eligible to apply for citizenship by birth and by naturalization. The constitution places restrictions on citizens who have naturalized citizenship — they are ineligible to hold high-ranking positions in government. A child born to a female Nepali citizen and a male foreign citizen is to be granted naturalized citizenship given they meet all conditions outlined in Section 5 (2) of the Citizenship Act. This provision once again undermines women, as it refuses to grant children born from Nepali mothers the right to citizenship by birth.
Fourth, delays in decision making have ripple effects, leading to a failure to ensure basic rights for many individuals. In June 2020, an amendment in the citizenship bill was endorsed by the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee with a clause that required foreign women married to Nepali men to reside in Nepal for seven years before they are eligible for citizenship. This amendment has its own drawbacks, as no such provision has been put in place for foreign men married to Nepali women, meaning that foreign men ipso facto will have to wait the default 15 years before acquiring naturalized citizenship. Current provisions in the 2006 Citizenship Act have no waiting period for foreign-born women.
Nevertheless, what is even more taxing is that the implementation of Articles 11 (2)(b) and 11 (5) of the constitution depend on this long-overdue amendment, which has yet to be passed by Parliament. No progress on the amendment has halted the implementation of the constitution, which has meant that eligible candidates have had to further wait until the amendment is ratified.
The regressive attitudes of lawmakers, combined with their inaction, have left individuals stranded, as they do not have the liberty to receive citizenship through their mothers. They also have to suffer through existential crises regarding their own identity as a citizen of this country. There is no measuring the amount of trauma these individuals have undergone as a result of not receiving citizenship.
There is an inextricable link between identity deprivation and poorly fashioned laws that deem women secondary to their male counterparts. For any woman to be able to pass citizenship to her children calls for mechanisms that support her individualism and recognize her identity as independent from her husband or father. The eligibility criteria for women to obtain and confer citizenship attack the positionality of women in Nepal. Requiring foreign-born women to wait seven years before being eligible for naturalized citizenship renders them completely dependent on their husband, exacting their loyalty for the years that they are effectively stateless. Ensuring that all stateless individuals receive their due citizenship and are thus able to exercise their fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution requires ameliorating citizenship provisions that prevent women from conferring citizenship to their children.
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