Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Citizenship bill protects women more than ever

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Had the citizenship bill taken effect over five years ago, Waty, an Indonesian woman, would not have had to fight in a Lahore, Pakistan, court for her baby.

Only after a long and complicated trial did Waty win her case against Ali, a Pakistani businessman who she married and whom then brought their baby to his home country, as the law allowed him to do.

The Indonesian government could do nothing for the woman, who finally received help from two Indonesian and Pakistani non- governmental organizations in her fight to win custody of her child.

But her problem did not end with the legal victory in Pakistan. Since returning home with her child, Waty has had to renew the baby's stay permit and visa every six months, because according to Law No. 62/1958 babies automatically are given the same nationality as their fathers.

The citizenship bill, which will replace the 1958 law, ensures there will be no more Watys.

"If the House of the Representatives endorses the citizenship bill, discrimination against women will end and mothers' rights of custody will be protected," Dewi Tjakrawinata of the Multinational Rainbow Alliance (APAB) told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Regarding Waty's case, the bill stipulates that her baby will automatically follow her nationality.

The explanatory appendix of the bill says the current citizenship law fails to protect the rights of Indonesian women and their children in mixed nationality marriages. Therefore, several significant changes were proposed in the bill, in line with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Dewi said the current law did not favor Indonesian women because children's citizenship always followed their fathers', and when foreign husbands died or divorced their wives, their children were treated as foreigners and forced to leave the country.

"As if mothers were incapable of taking care of the children without husbands," she said.

The current citizenship law adopts the principle of ius sanguinis, where a child's citizenship follows the citizenship of the father, as opposed to the principle of ius soli, where a child's citizenship depends on the country where it was born.

The bill proposes that when an Indonesian woman's marriage to a foreigner ends because of divorce or death, the woman may petition the government for her children to be given Indonesian citizenship. In cases of divorce, the mother must have a custody order from the court in order to receive citizenship for her children.

Dewi said the bill would be welcomed by Indonesian women now that more and more mixed nationality marriages were taking place.

However, there are decrees on immigration that pose difficulties for mixed-marriage families that need reviewing, she said.

Dewi said APAB, an organization that fights to eliminate discrimination against Indonesians who are married to foreigners, has appealed to the House's Legislative Body to proceed with the deliberation of the citizenship bill.

The head of the body, Zain Badjeber, said the House would include the bill on its list of priorities this year.

"So far we have not obtained the bill. But the bill will be prioritized in our legislation agenda this year. Academic experts will be involved in the process," Zain of the United Development Party (PPP) said.

The bill was not on the list of 53 draft laws the House will deliberate during the current sitting period.

The citizenship bill was drawn up during the term of president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000, although the move to revise the current citizenship law began during the previous administration of president B.J. Habibie.