By – Aayushman Nepal

The procedure of acquiring citizenship in Nepal is constructed in such a way that it is near to impossible for a number of individuals such as orphans, children of single/widowed women, children of mixed nationality parents and the children of foreign fathers to get a citizenship. Here, we have to question whether the new amendment of the citizenship act is actually progressive or not. As the main question that we eventually go back to is whether citizenship through descent actually includes both mother and father as so far in the amendment, the category of getting hold of citizenship through descent translates to descent from father. The question of whether the father is traceable or not is secondary. Below are some of the categories under which a person cannot get the citizenship of Nepal.

  •  Non-traceable father, mother is not a Nepali citizen.
  • Father is not traceable, mother is a Nepali citizen, the individual was not born in Nepal.
  • Father is not traceable, mother is a Nepali citizen, the individual was born in Nepal but was not raised in Nepal
  • Father is traceable but both parents are not Nepali citizens.
  • Father is traceable, the mother is a Nepali citizen but the father is not a Nepali citizen and if the individual was not raised in Nepal.
  • The father is traceable; he is a Nepali citizen but not by descent and the mother is not a Nepali citizen

Even though we have a provision in the constitution that any individual residing in Nepali territory for more than 15 years and wishes to get a Nepali citizenship is eligible under the law. This claim has only been substantial on paper due to the continuous delays in promulgation of the act due to a failure among the political parties and the parliament to reach a consensus. This has resulted in an estimated 5.4 million people in Nepal that lack citizenship documents (U.S Department of State in its 2017 human rights report). The majority of people that belong to the section of stateless Nepali (as they reside in Nepal but have no legal proof of being a citizen of Nepal) are the individuals living in buffer zone of the open borders of Nepal and India, Dalit Madhesi, children of individual who married cross border, orphans etcetera. These individuals in a huge number are the target of our citizenship act. Being stateless has a much bigger ripple effect than we can possibly fathom, such as one cannot pursue higher education, open a bank account, get a PAN card, driving license, passport, sim card, can’t register to vote, cannot get any security services too.

It should not come to us as a surprise that the amendment of the citizenship act does not mention citizenship through descent in the name of mother only. Thus, the provision still restricts the child of single mother, children whose fathers deny the relationship (in fear of having to share property), assault victims and many more cases in which the fathers are absent to acquire citizenship. The applicant’s mother must make a self-declaration that the father cannot be identified. She will be liable for action if it is found that the claim that the father cannot be identified turns out to be wrong. Other aspects such as citizenship to the foreign spouse is also heavily criticized by experts. The wife of a Nepali individual who is a foreigner can easily get citizenship through naturalization. However, it does not apply the same way to the husband of a Nepali woman who is a foreigner. Such discriminatory segregation is not justifiable and need a better take at the amendment of such basic provision of the state like a citizenship card. We can take many ideas for a proper restructuring of our citizenship act from the state of Kerala. In Kerala, the citizenship of the mother is more than enough for the child to get citizenship in any situation. No further requirements such as whether the father is traceable, deceased/alive, nationality of the father is necessary.

However, if the citizenship act comes into action a lot of stateless individuals residing in Nepal for generations who have not been given citizenship for generations will finally get one and will be able to exercise their voting as well as administrative rights. The amendment has listed that the children of parents who got their citizenship by birth are now eligible to get citizenship by descent. The provision to be free to choose the surname of either parent, the liberty to get citizenship through gender identity in line with the constitution. The orphans whose parents are untraceable will also get citizenship based on the testimonials of the orphanages or the shelter house. Such invisible citizens who make up a large amount of population, the non-resident Nepalis who reside outside the South Asia region will also be able to acquire citizenship for the first time if the act is passed, however they won’t be able to exercise any political or administrative rights such as voting, standing in election and not be appointed in government jobs. They will only be eligible for economic, social and cultural rights.

The new amendment of the citizenship act has positive as well as negative aspects to it. It shows a potential for the betterment of the masses by easing the process of acquiring citizenship and addressing the problems faced by the general people. Inclusion of orphans, non-resident Nepalis, gender specifications, mentioning of mother’s name, etcetera.