A key parliamentary panel in Nepal has proposed to amend the country's Citizenship Act that would require a foreign woman married to a Nepali national to wait seven years for naturalised citizenship.
Nepal's main opposition parties decried the move, saying it would inconvenience people living in Madhes as cross-border marriage is prevalent there.
Both the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Janata Samajbadi Party (SJP) have said that such a provision could also affect the bread and bride relations' that Nepal has had with India for ages.
The Madheshi are the inhabitants of the Terai region in the south of Nepal at the foothill of the Himalayas on the border with India in Bihar. The bill to amend the existing Citizenship Act was registered at the Parliament on Sunday. It includes seven rights that a foreign woman married to a Nepali national can exercise till she acquires citizenship certificates.
The ruling Nepal Communist party (NCP) Secretariat on Saturday decided to make foreign women married to Nepali men eligible for naturalised citizenship on the basis of matrimonial relations only after seven years. The same was endorsed by the parliamentary committee on Sunday, the Himalayan Times reported.
The foreign woman will get residence permit till she is eligible for citizenship, according to sources in the Parliament Secretariat.
The amendment bill proposes changes to Clause 4.1(b) of the Citizenship Act paving 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.
Lack of a citizenship certificate will not bar them from running any businesses and earn, use and sell any fixed and movable assets, make profits through businesses and get involved in transaction of property of any kind.
Such a woman can also set up companies, run businesses as well as other ventures, register vital events such as birth, death, marriage, divorce and migration and avail services, privileges and discounts provided by any organisation established in accordance to the laws.
She will also be entitled to study at any academic institution, obtain academic certificates and exercise economic, social and cultural rights and acquire national identity cards as per the amendment proposal. The proposal has been criticised by women groups, who said an all-male secretariat should not have a say in a matter which largely concerns females.
They also pointed out that the amendment does not speak about foreign men who are married to Nepali women. Presently, a foreign man married to a Nepali woman must wait 14 years for citizenship. Women groups have demanded equality in the law, The Kathmandu Post reported.
The main opposition parties the NC and the JSP have written notes of dissent against the amendment bill. Both parties are in favour of granting citizenship certificates to foreign women soon after they are married to Nepali men.
The amendment bill has been finalised through majority votes in the parliamentary committee. It will now be presented to the full house of the Parliament for endorsement.
The move to amend the citizenship act comes days after the Nepal government completed the process of redrawing the country's political map through a Constitutional amendment, incorporating three strategically important Indian areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura in a move that could severely jolt bilateral relations with New Delhi.