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Nepal: Parliamentary Panel Approves Amendment of Citizenship Act Regarding Naturalization of Foreign Women

(June 30, 2020) On June 21, 2020, the Committee on State Affairs and Good Governance in Nepal’s House of Representatives approved a proposed amendment to Nepal’s Citizenship Act that would require foreign women married to Nepali nationals to wait seven years to become naturalized citizens. The amendment had been under consideration of the committee for the past two years. The secretariat of the ruling Nepal Communist Party made the decision to amend the law at a meeting held on June 20, 2020.

Currently clause 5(1) of the Citizenship Act allows foreign women to be “immediately eligible for citizenship upon marriage to a Nepali man”:

5. Acquisition of Citizenship by Naturalization:

(1) A foreign women married to a citizen of Nepal desiring to obtain citizenship of Nepal shall have to submit an application in the prescribed form to the designated officer. On submitting such application she has to produce the marriage relationship document with the citizen of Nepal and also evidence to show the initiation of procedure for renunciation of [one’s own] foreign citizenship.

Under the proposed amendment, women would only be “eligible for naturalised citizenship after seven years and once they had provided proof of renouncing their earlier citizenship.”

The amendment bill also reportedly proposed changes to clause 4.1(b) of the Citizenship Act that “[pave] the way for women receiving residence permits to exercise economic, social and cultural rights and provide seven different economic, social and cultural rights to such women.” Women who don’t have a citizenship certificate can set up and run companies, businesses, and other ventures; earn, use, and sell fixed and movable assets; and be involved in property transactions. They can also register vital events, such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and migration, and avail themselves of services, privileges, and discounts provided by any organizations established in accordance with the law. They will also be entitled to study at any academic institution and obtain academic certificates, as well as acquire national identity cards.

The bill has been registered at the parliament and will now be taken up by the House.

Reactions

Nepal’s main opposition, including the Nepali Congress (NC) Party and the Janata Samajbadi Party (SJP) criticized the proposed amendment, “saying it would inconvenience people living in Madhes [the Terai region in the south of Nepal at the foothill of the Himalayas on the border of the Indian state of Bihar] as cross-border marriage is prevalent there,” and the “provision could also affect the ‘bread and bride relations’ that Nepal has had with India for ages.” (The Madheshi people are made up of “different ethnicities, many of which share cultural, linguistic and social similarities with Northern Indians.”) The ruling party’s own women leaders also severely criticized the lack of inclusion of women leadership in the decision-making process during the all-male meeting, especially because the decision directly affects women. Ruling party lawmaker Binda Pandey stated that, “while they had no issue with the party’s decision per se, they believe that the discussion itself is problematic since it only discussed how foreign women could gain citizenship and not foreign men. Whatever decision is taken must apply equally to both males and females.”