"Gendered Exclusion: Struggle for Citizenship rights in the name of mother"

Published On: June 17, 2024 09:50 AM NPT By: Prasan Rai

Can you picture a situation where the state refuses to recognize your existence or the reality of your life? How would you feel? You would experience a profound sense of invalidation and invisibility, as though your identity and experiences were effectively expunged from the societal record. All the rights and benefits that come with official recognition would be denied to you, leaving you feeling marginalized and powerless in a system that fails to acknowledge your humanity. This lack of recognition could have far-reaching consequences for your ability to access resources, support, and opportunities within society. This situation might seem like an imaginable story to many, but there are various people in Nepal who are living this reality every day due to their lack of citizenship. Without official recognition, these people are unable to access basic services like healthcare, education, and employment, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and marginalization. And as many of us might assume, those populations must be people who are not Nepali or are refugees. However, the reality is that many of these stateless individuals were actually born and raised in Nepal by both Nepali parents; nonetheless, they are deprived of these rights in the absence of their father 's citizenship. Many citizens of Nepal, particularly those from rural areas, are facing problems in the absence of their father's citizenship. This issue is a result of complex legal and bureaucratic barriers that prevent these individuals from obtaining citizenship, leaving them vulnerable and marginalized in their own country.

Even though the new constitution of Nepal 2015 grants citizenship in the name of the mother, many individuals still face challenges in obtaining citizenship through their mothers due to various legal and social barriers. In Belbari, Morang, Amrita Gurung (name changed) tried her best for her only son to obtain citizenship through her name, but faced numerous obstacles and delays in the process. Amrita's partner had been missing for several years, and without his presence or consent, she struggled to prove her son's eligibility for citizenship. Despite providing all necessary documents, Amrita's case was continuously delayed due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of proper support systems for single mothers in the citizenship application process. Moreover, she faced problems as she had to go through interrogations about her personal life, which were too personal and invasive as a part of the process. Her son wanted to go abroad for a higher education, but without citizenship, his dreams remained unattainable.

As per Section 3, Subsection 1 of the Citizenship Act 2063, an individual born during a period when their parents hold Nepalese citizenship is automatically granted Nepalese citizenship through descent. Similarly, Subsection 5 of Section 11 of the Constitution of Nepal 2015 states, "A person born in Nepal from a Nepali citizen mother and residing in Nepal and whose father has not been identified shall acquire Nepalese citizenship on the basis of descent." Nonetheless, there are various people, like Amrita's son, who are still struggling to obtain citizenship due to a lack of documentation or other bureaucratic hurdles. At last, Amrita was able to provide citizenship to her son only after her second marriage through her husband's citizenship. Similarly, there are various other cases that highlight the challenges faced by individuals in obtaining Nepalese citizenship from their mother's citizenship alone. There was another case in Belbari where a female was denied citizenship all her life until she got married and was able to get citizenship from her husband's citizenship. This demonstrates the gender disparities and complexities within the citizenship process in Nepal, where women often face additional barriers to obtaining citizenship independently.

Those who have obtained citizenship from their mother's name shared their stories of having to go through a long and lengthy process of bureaucracy in order to obtain citizenship by descent, which can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience for many individuals. Many individuals are not familiar with the process, and in the absence of proper guidance and support, some of them find alternative methods to obtain citizenship that are not legal. There was a recent case in Suryodaya municipality in eastern Nepal where a person was arrested for falsely attempting to provide citizenship to his nephew by claiming him as his son under his own citizenship. His brother had been lost for many years, and his nephew was not able to attain citizenship through his mother's name and resorted to this illegal method out of desperation. Similarly, there are various people in every municipality across Nepal who face similar challenges and resort to illegal means to obtain citizenship due to a lack of proper guidance and support. This issue raises significant concerns regarding human rights and underscores the urgent need for improved access to legal resources and support for individuals seeking citizenship in Nepal. Nepal is a federal democratic republican state that guarantees fundamental rights to its citizens and promotes equality and justice. Nepal prides itself on being a federal democratic republic that guarantees the fundamental rights of its citizens. However, the reality on the ground often deviates significantly from this ideal.

The fight for citizenship involves more than just the law; it also involves human rights and dignity. A person will be completely excluded from accessing all the basic services without official recognition. Citizens are deprived of a number of rights, including the ability to vote, own property, receive healthcare, and receive an education. The denial of these rights can cause a person to feel alone and marginalized in society, which feeds the cycle of poverty and inequality.

Without citizenship, individuals are often unable to fully participate in society and contribute to their communities. This exclusion can perpetuate a cycle of discrimination and limit opportunities for social and economic advancement. Furthermore, a person's inherent rights and dignity are gravely violated when they are denied citizenship. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that everyone has the right to a nationality, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.

Nepal is depriving people of their right to identification, belonging, and legal protection, in addition to breaking international human rights norms by refusing to acknowledge the citizenship of those who were born and reared inside its borders. People who are stateless experience institutionalized prejudice, which makes it more difficult for them to seek legal protection and justice and increases their vulnerability. Similarly, this act also perpetuates discrimination based on sex and gender. Unlike women, single fathers face no difficulties in providing citizenship to their sons or daughters. It indicates the existing discrimination against women in the state and the inability of state mechanisms to allow women to exercise their rights to the fullest extent.

In summary, the fight for citizenship is not only a legal problem, but it is also a problem related to human rights and dignity. The lack of citizenship excludes a person from achieving all the basic fundamental rights, which results in further exclusion in the social and economic sectors. A proper, comprehensive legal reform and action plan are required to improve support systems for those vulnerable individuals who are seeking citizenship. Otherwise, without providing the right to nationality to each deserving individual, Nepal cannot genuinely preserve its ideal as a federal democratic republic dedicated to social justice, equality, and human dignity.

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