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Nepal's Sexist Citizenship Law And The Immigration Debate

19/04/2016 2:30 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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There's been plenty of commentary in Nepal over the citizenship law that demands that a child can only be considered a citizen of the country if both the parents are Nepali. In addition, while a foreign woman married to a Nepali citizen can get naturalized citizenship, the provisions are far tougher for Nepali women with foreign husbands or for those who do not know the paternity of their children. There's no doubt that the Constitution of Nepal is imperfect in terms of granting equal rights to men and women and the law needs to be amended.

However, what is also a matter of concern that is being overlooked is the notion of granting Nepali citizenship to anyone.

Nepal cannot give a good life and protection to immigrants when the nation has failed to address the needs of its own citizens.

Most of the developed nations now have shifted from a relaxed, open immigration policy to a rigid one. The main reason for this is the rising threat of terrorism worldwide and the problems that arose from the migrant crisis of Syria. In recent years, even Nordic countries that are considered to be the champions for human rights have failed to maintain their standards in this regard. A country is termed as developed when it is able to provide a good life and opportunities to its citizens, including immigrants and refugees.

Nepal cannot give a good life and protection to immigrants when the nation has failed to address the needs of its own citizens. In this case, we can only wonder about who wants to become a Nepali citizen. Recent reports give the clear picture as most naturalized citizens were Indian women who married Nepalese men.

Nepali lawmakers, stakeholders and politicians need not worry about droves of Nepalese women marrying foreigners and producing offspring lacking patriotic sentiments. Sovereignty is a bundle of powers. And women too are a part of it. The government immediately needs to allow hundreds of Nepali mothers to pass their citizenship to their children regardless of whether the father is a citizen of Nepal or not. It is unfortunate that the Constitution turns a blind eye to scores of Nepali women and children who have become stateless due to such erratic provisions. Several developed nations have allowed women to pass their citizenship to their children, inside or outside the country, even if the father is a foreigner or, in some cases, unknown.

Patriotism is neither a concept nor a product. It is a culture cultivated by the government's good performance and transparent accountability.

That said, the government must at the same time institute a proper policy making it difficult for any foreigner, irrespective of their gender to become a naturalized citizen of Nepal.

Most European countries and other developed nations now have shifted from their liberal immigration policies to a stricter one after witnessing several loopholes and integration problems. Multiculturalism has practically failed in Europe and is still a challenging factor in several other nations. Nepal is a small nation and it has to understand that without fulfilling its citizen's needs first it can never satisfy the immigrants or provide opportunities to naturalized citizens.

Patriotism is neither a concept nor a product. It is a culture cultivated by the government's good performance and transparent accountability. Hence, a country cannot progress without liberal policies for its citizens.

Denmark has passed a tough new immigration law and has practically ended the path to permanent residency. Other Nordic countries also have followed suit. It's not impossible to get permanent residency in Australia, United States, Canada and New Zealand, but it's hell of a lot harder. Those who do become citizens, however, enjoy similar opportunities and amenities as anyone else.

In my opinion, issuing citizenship per se is not the problem. The point here is whether the country has allowed its own citizens to have access to citizenship or not. If not, allowing naturalized citizenship to foreigners is of little import.

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