As India passed a controversial bill, which will grant citizenship to religious minorities from its neighboring countries excluding Muslims, in the lower House of Parliament on Monday, concerns are rife that it violates the spirit of the country’s secular constitution.
Nepal’s patriarchal bill to amend Citizenship Act, 2006 is not without controversy. The bill was tabled in June, 2018 and attracted widespread criticism from activists as well as lawmakers.
Rights activists say if the government goes ahead with the draft of the bill to amend the Citizenship Act in its current form, it will not only put the future of the rights of Nepal’s sexual minorities in uncertainty but also threaten to make citizenship laws more regressive for women.
For LGBTQ: Provisions in the proposed bill state that people need to present a proof of sex change if they want to change their gender identity on the citizenship card. The current provision allows people to choose ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘others’ as their sex on government-issued documents.
This provision is in contrast with the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2007, which said citizens were entitled to select their gender identity based on “self determination”. This paved the way for people to choose “others” as their sex in government-issued identification cards. Nepal has since been lauded for its efforts to strengthen the rights of sexual minorities and even considered a safe haven for sexual minorities from other South Asian countries.
For Nepali women: The parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee in 2018 had decided to pass a controversial provision that would penalize women for failing to correctly mention the father’s identity while passing on citizenship to their children. There is no such provision for men.
The provision in the bill states that a woman can be sentenced to prison for six months to a year-and-a-half and fined Rs 25,000 to Rs 100,000 if she fails to correctly identify the father of the child. The person wrongly identified as the father will also share the penalty.
For foreign women marrying Nepali men: The government has proposed to grant naturalized citizenship only seven years after the marriage between a foreign woman and a Nepali man.
The existing provision says a woman married to a Nepali man is eligible to get naturalized citizenship once she provides evidence showing that the process for renouncing her foreign citizenship has been initiated.
For children: Similarly, a child born to a Nepali female citizen from marriage with a foreign citizen in Nepal may be granted naturalized citizenship, but only after producing proof that the child has not acquired the citizenship of his father’s nation. These conditions do not exist for a child born to a Nepali male citizen from marriage with a foreign national.
Nepal is one of the 27 countries in the world with unequal citizenship laws that limit women’s rights to pass on citizenship to a child or a non-citizen spouse.