Requiring a mother to submit an affidavit about her husband to secure citizenship for her child is humiliating

The House of Representatives (HoR) on Friday passed the much-awaited citizenship bill, enabling thousands of children born of parents who are Nepali citizens to obtain citizenship of this country, but women say discrimination against them persist.

The bill had been under discussion in the Lower House of Parliament for the past two years, but could not be endorsed due to differences among the parties over some provisions of the bill, including the waiting period to obtain naturalised citizenship for foreign women married to Nepali men. The Citizenship Bill (1st Amendment-2079) will now become law after the National Assembly, the Upper House of the Parliament, also endorses it. The newly passed bill has also enabled Non-resident Nepalis to obtain NRN citizenship. They will enjoy economic, social and cultural rights but will not be able to vote, contest an election or get appointed to public posts.

Estimates vary as to the number of individuals who will now be eligible for Nepali citizenship. Before the promulgation of the constitution in September 2015, any child born in Nepal was eligible for any one of the three kinds of citizenship – by birth, by descent and naturalised citizenship – if the individual had not taken other citizenship. But, the new constitution did away with this provision, which meant children of those who obtained citizenship by birth were unable to get citizenship. According to the Home Ministry, 190,726 individuals had acquired Nepali citizenship certificates by birth before September 2015. So an estimated 600,000- 700,000 children from these citizens by birth should be eligible for citizenship by descent as per the new constitutional provision. Similarly, another 680,533 children born to Nepali mothers domiciled in Nepal whose fathers cannot be traced are also eligible for citizenship by descent. So many individuals would not have remained stateless within a state for so long if the parliament had taken the initiative to amend all laws that contradict the new constitution within three years of its promulgation as stipulated. Living without citizenship papers can be most agonising as one cannot get a job or carry out personal business, such as opening a bank account or purchasing land in Nepal.

While the newly passed bill is expected to resolve the decades-old citizenship issue, debate over the discriminatory provisions from a gender perspective will not die down anytime soon. While the amended bill has scrapped the seven-year waiting period and provided instant naturalised citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Nepali man, women are crying foul because citizenship isn't granted to a foreigner married to a Nepali woman. The provision requiring a Nepali mother whose husband cannot be traced to submit an affidavit to secure citizenship for her child can also be very humiliating. For example, there are many cases of women returning from the Gulf countries pregnant or with a child after being sexually abused there. Nonetheless, the bill passed through a fast track should be welcomed, and once it becomes law, the government has the onus to remove the administrative hurdles that could prevent Nepalis from obtaining their rightful citizenship papers.

Low investment

The Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has stated in its monetary policy that all the financial institutions must invest 15 per cent of their investable amount in the agriculture sector. The monetary policy unveiled on Friday has stated that the banks and financial institutions (BFIs) have disbursed only 12.8 per cent in the agriculture sector. This means import of agricultural goods will continue to grow in the years to come. Consumers will face an acute shortage of food items when the supply chain is disrupted in the international market due to war or COVID-19 like pandemic, both of which were seen in recent times.

As per the NRB data, BFIs had invested Rs 490 billion in the agriculture sector by the end of the last fiscal year 2021-22. The number of farmers taking concessional agricultural loans during that period is 60,618. Why such a small number of farmers took the concessional agricultural loans should be a matter of serious concern. The process of disbursing the concessional loans in this sector must be simplified so that many more farmers could receive loans without having to go through bureaucratic hassles. Investing more in the agriculture sector means more agriculture production, making the country self-reliant in this sector.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 25, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.