Kathmandu celebrated an early Deepawali this year as inhabitants took to the streets on September 20th to welcome the new constitution. Celebrations were definitely in order - after all, this was a constitution that abolished the death penalty, secured the rights of the LGBTI community, conferred equal property rights on Nepal’s sons and daughters, and most importantly, reinstated the country’s secular democratic credentials, despite much pressure from certainsections of Indian society. Why then were Nepali women still unhappy? Why did thousands of them come out on the streets in the run up to September 20th? What were those die-ins and week-long fasts all about?
The biggest bone of contention is the issue of citizenship for Nepali women married to foreign men and the position for single women. With the new constitution, Nepal joins ranks with 27 countries that restrict a woman’s right to pass on citizenship to her child independent of the father’s nationality. Even Pakistan and Afghanistan offer their women this constitutional right. Months of hectic lobbying, sit-ins and fasts later, women were still rendered second-class citizens in the new charter.
Nepali women married to foreign men
Article 11.7 of the constitution states that the child of a Nepali woman married to a foreigner can only avail citizenship by naturalization. Women’s groups are up in arms against this discriminatory clause, particularly since naturalized citizens are not allowed access to higher posts in the administration and security forces. More importantly, naturalized citizenship is not a fundamental right but at the discretion of the state. A Chief District Officer with a patriarchal nationalist mindset, could very well quash the application, rendering the applicant stateless - all because his mother dared to carry the seed of a foreign male. At this point, it is important to mention that Nepal has nearly 4.8 million stateless persons. Without citizenship cards, they are unable to gain admission to a college, open a bank account, vote, buy property, or even apply for a passport, driving license or a SIM card connection.
Compare this to the case of the Nepali man married to a foreign woman. Not only are his children given citizenship by descent right at birth, but his wife can also apply for naturalized citizenship soon after marriage. In capital city Kathmandu, it is not uncommon to spot Nepali men married to foreign woman, often with a baby in tow. The opposite however is not quite as common. Krishna from Kathmandu is married to an Israeli woman, and is the father of a baby girl. His daughter is automatically given Nepali citizenship by descent however he states emphatically, ‘Nobody should get a privilege based on their gender. This defeats the concept of equality enshrined in the constitution.’
Single woman and citizenship
Article 11.5 of the constitution states that a person born to a Nepali citizen mother, and having his/her domicile in Nepal but whose father is not traced, shall be conferred the Nepali citizenship by descent. It however goes on to state, ’ Provided that in case his/her father is found to be a foreigner, the citizenship of such a person shall be converted to naturalized citizenship according to the Federal law.’
The sub text regarding 'domicile’ deals a sharp blow to Nepali women trafficked into other countries, raped and rendered pregnant by pimps, clients and employers. Sabitri Sinha is one such example. She worked in the Gulf for 9 years. Raped by four men after escaping an abusive employer, she gave birth to her son Yuv in Kuwait only to realize that Yuv did not qualify for citizenship by descent as he was not born in Nepal.
Why take the matter as far as rape?
What happens to the thousands of unmarried Nepali women who work as au pairs, nannies, nurses, beauticians, or migrant workers on foreign soil. What happens if they fall pregnant and the father is untraceable refuses to acknowledge the child or is not a Nepali national. What if the woman does not see abortion as a solution but chooses to give the child a chance at life. Does the new constitution afford this child that chance at living? Or he does he join the ranks with the nation’s 4.8 million stateless floating spectres? Deepti Gurung, a single mother in an article for Deutsche Welle writes, “We are like prisoners in our own country. Our condition is worse than the refugees. They are at least recognised as citizens of a country. We are stateless.” For this reason, activists such as senior advocate Sapana Pradhan Malla strongly advocate easy birth registrations of children of single mothers to ensure the children are not stateless.
© and source/ rest: opendemocracy (posted using inoreader/ ifttt).
(Excerpt etc. first posted on feimineach.com. Orig. attribution above.)