EDITORIAL: End inequalities

Children of Nepali women, irrespective of who she is married to, should unquestionably be entitled to citizenship by descent

In Nepal, citizenship has been a highly divisive issue for far too long. The issue comes up once in a while, and the state tries to redress it by granting citizenship certificates to thousands of people at a time. As a result, the state has yet to find a long-lasting solution to this decades-old problem. Having issued a new Constitution three years ago, the Parliament is debating the very issue yet again. At the core of the debate this time around are certain constitutional provisions related to citizenship. More than 70 lawmakers from the federal Parliament have registered amendment proposals to the Nepal Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the Bill on the Right to Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health (SMRH), seeking removal of provisions that are discriminatory towards women. Clause 9 of SMRH says that a newborn can get birth certificate in the mother’s name if the mother does not want to identify the biological father of the child. But the mother should provide “full details” on why she does not want to identify the child’s father. This provision has been a serious bone of contention. And many lawmakers have argued that a mother who wishes to get her child’s birth certificate in her name should be allowed to do so without requiring her to give details about the child’s biological father.

What is also controversial is contradicting provisions on granting citizenship to children whose mother is a Nepali citizen. Article 11 (5) of the constitution states that a person who is born in Nepal from a woman who is a Nepali citizen and has resided in Nepal and whose father is not traced shall be provided with the citizenship of Nepal by descent. But Article 11 (7) of the constitution says, in the case of a person born from a woman who is a Nepali citizen and married to a foreign citizen, the person may acquire naturalised citizenship of Nepal if s/he has permanently resided in Nepal and has not acquired citizenship of a foreign country. However, a person born from a Nepali man and a foreign woman and has been permanently residing in Nepal shall get the Nepali citizenship certificate by descent. These provisions are biased towards women. They should be changed to make sure offspring of a Nepali woman and a Nepali man who marry foreigners receive equal treatment. Children of a Nepali woman, irrespective of who she is married to, should unquestionably be entitled to citizenship by descent. That’s what equality between a man and a woman is all about.

If the bills are passed in line with amendments sought by the lawmakers, babies born to Nepali mothers will get to enjoy citizenship by descent, which comes with certain “political rights” and privileges not accorded to naturalized citizens. Any discriminatory provisions that make men “more equal” than women and/or treat women differently will only drive a wedge between men and women. Both men and women should be equal in the eyes of the constitution.

The forgotten people

The squatters, who were recently relocated to Dhangadi’s Dhurjhanna from Kailali’s Haraiya, are facing problems in adjusting to the new place, which lacks electricity supply and gets inundated even when there is light rain. The problem faced by squatters of the far western region, who were relocated after a real estate developer bought the property they were residing in, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many places in the country where the squatters are living in deplorable conditions. This violates the constitutional provision, which says, ‘every citizen shall have right to appropriate housing’.

The government should now conduct a countrywide census of squatters, verify them and provide them access to better housing and sanitation facilities. Caution should be taken while verifying squatters, as well-to-do families in the past have projected themselves as landless people to occupy land. the squatters draw attention only during elections, when political parties make tall promises to resolve their problems. Their issues are put on the backburner after votes are cast. This is not the right way to treat them. The government should immediately collect data of the landless people and address their genuine problems.