They are citizens too


Children play and pose for photograph.

Nepali mothers should be able to pass citizenship on to their children via their name.

The idea of citizenship has never been the same, even during the early Roman period. Aristotle, the most prominent philosopher of all time, has written in his book entitled Politics Book III, “Whoever is entitled to participate in an office involving deliberation or decision is, we can now say, a citizen in this city; and the city is the multitude of such persons that is adequate with a view to a self-sufficient life, to speak simple.”

In course of time, several theories and concepts of citizenship emerged in society. The theory of sociologist TH Marshall, though outlined half a century ago, is the most recent theoretical model which was influenced by the world. According to Marshall in Citizenship and Social Class, “Citizenship is a status, given to all full members of a community. That status is assuring rights and duties, though there is no universal principle what those should be; in general the idea of citizenship goes in the direction of greater equality.” He concedes that the development of citizenship can be traced through the evolution of three elements, namely civil rights, political rights and social rights.

Citizenship in Nepal

In the context of citizenship in Nepal, Article 8 (7) of the Interim Constitution states that the children of Nepali women and foreign men can only access citizenship through naturalisation, not by right through descent. Though the government raised the hopes of the people, the process of naturalised citizenship through the mother has been an extremely prolonged process with a lot of glitches. The state has refused to accept the citizenship applications submitted by mothers for their children. The children who have been denied citizenship by the state are facing a lot of problems. They have limited access to public services like health care, education and even economic security. Getting citizenships through the father’s name is pretty easy, and no questions are asked. This shows how our country still follows the route of patriarchy.

According to Census 2011, there were 161,231 widowers and 498,606 widows (around 0.65 million single parents) in the country. There are an estimated 23,000 divorced and 40,000 separated couples. And even though the constitution ensures that the offspring of either a Nepali father ‘or’ mother are eligible for citizenship by descent, these children have not been able to acquire their citizenship. Only 13 persons had obtained such naturalised citizenship certificates as of January 2017. Also, the new provision in Article 11 (5) states that persons born in Nepal to Nepali mothers can acquire citizenship by descent, but only if their fathers cannot be traced. This does not resolve the problems of the children of single mothers.

Considering that there are 898,800 children below the age of 16 living with single mothers in Nepal, and that the National Population and Housing Census of Nepal, 2011 and a study conducted by the Forum for Women, Law and Development estimates that there are 5.4 million people without citizenship certificates in Nepal, the number of persons at risk of statelessness is huge, and it is increasing every year at a staggering rate.

Gender inequality

The state has not been able to attain and monitor the rights that Marshall has stated in the theory of citizenship. The gender inequality practiced in our society has deprived citizens of the right to liberty; equality before law; right to justice; right to own property; freedom to enter into valid contracts; freedom of speech, expression and faith in constituting civil rights; and the right to participate in the exercise of political power as a member of a body invested with political authority, or as an elector of the members of such a body in organising political rights and live in society with economic welfare and security. An individual should be able to get citizenship in their mother’s name in the same way they can through their father’s without any conditions and complications. The children whose fathers are unknown shouldn’t have ‘father unidentified’ put down on their paperwork. No citizen who is unable to get citizenship should be identified as stateless. Women in leading roles in every sector, be it politics or economics or education or others, should be persuasive enough to voice this issue in every relevant place possible. These issues haven’t been strongly raised in public. Both men and women are equal, the constitution of the land says so; and mothers should be able to pass citizenship on to their children via their names.

Author: Pratik Gurung

Photo: Pratik Gurung

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