Debate on citizenship bill drags on

Published On: March 23, 2019 09:55 AM NPT By: Ashok Dahal  | @ashokpillar

KATHMANDU, March 23: The issue of citizenship, which was one of the major bones of contention during constitution drafting in 2015, has resurfaced as a hard nut to crack. 

With lawmakers from both ruling as well as opposition parties sharply divided over some of the provisions of the citizenship bill, such as citizenship through the mother and citizenship for spouses marrying Nepali nationals, parliament has failed to finalize the legislation despite rigorous work over the last seven months.

As the parliament session is likely to prorogue from Sunday, the bill is most unlikely to be endorsed until the next few months. 

Contentions over the citizenship bill emerged after women lawmakers raised their voice, mainly against three provisions. 

One of the bill provisions, which some women lawmakers termed discriminatory, seeks verified reasons why the father remains ‘unidentified’ while applying for citizenship through the mother when the father is separated or of unknown status. 

Women’s rights activists criticized this provision, saying it would not only victimize the mother but may also render stateless those born through rape or sexual violence.

The State Affairs Committee (SAC) of parliament that is debating the bill has agreed to remove this provision and instead included a provision that paves the way to citizenship through the mother in such cases if the mother herself inform officials concerned about the reality pertaining to the fathers.

Secondly, the bill has proposed providing naturalized citizenship to a child begotten by a woman from a foreign spouse, while a Nepali man marrying a foreign national will be able to provide citizenship by descent to their child. Women have criticized this also as discriminatory as it does not provide equal right to citizenship through descent.

Thirdly, the bill is silent about citizenship for a foreign man marrying a Nepali woman. Lawmakers and rights activists have come down heavily on the provision for immediate Nepali citizenship for women marrying Nepali men and without any threshold while not saying anything about foreign nationals marrying Nepali women.

SAC has so far failed to settle these two disputed issues due to differences between lawmakers on the committee. “The law has proposed granting citizenship to the foreign spouse of a Nepali son immediately after marriage but is silent about citizenship for the foreigner spouse of Nepali daughter, which is major issue of concern for us,” said former minister Rekha Sharma, who is a member of the committee. 

The constitution is silent about the issue of citizenship for the foreign husband of Nepali woman and only envisions naturalized citizenship for the child. Women lawmakers and rights activists have demanded that the constitution not bar citizenship for the foreign spouse of a Nepali woman as the statute envisions equal rights for women. 

Jhapat Rawal, also a member of the same committee, argues that there is no need to provision citizenship for the foreign male spouse because both shall get the citizenship in the husband’s country. “They still have the privilege of obtaining citizenship from both parents as well as from the husband’s side,” said Rawal. 

Article 11 of the constitution has stated that a person born to a Nepali woman married to a foreign citizen may acquire the naturalized citizenship of Nepal ‘if he or she has permanently resided in Nepal and has not acquired the citizenship of a foreign country’. T

he statute explains that ‘if such person’s mother and father are both citizens of Nepal at the time of acquisition of the said person’s citizenship and if the person was born in Nepal he or she may acquire the citizenship of Nepal by descent.’ 

The Citizenship Amendment Bill tabled by the government, further explaining the constitutional provision, provisions for submitting evidence of not having taken citizenship from the father’s country and for recommendations from a local unit verifying his or her stay in Nepal, if the father is a foreigner and the mother is a Nepali citizen. 

The bill has proposed that any foreign woman marring a Nepali citizen will get Nepali naturalized citizenship right after initiating the process of renouncing the citizenship of her country of origin. But lawmakers are divided over the proposal with a majority of ruling party lawmakers demanding a time threshold for acquiring Nepali citizenship. 

Also failing to settle other issues, SAC Thursday formed a sub-committee to iron out the differences in two weeks.

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