'Anti-women' citizenship bill sparks fury in Nepal

Nepalese single mother Deepti Gurung has spent years trying and failing to register her two teenage daughters as citizens of their country.

Kathmandu: Nepalese single mother Deepti Gurung has spent years trying and failing to register her two teenage daughters as citizens of their country.

Although her children were both born in Nepal, the 40-year-old has struggled to secure their legal right to citizenship in the absence of their father, who left when they were small.

For now at least the law is on her side. But Nepal's parliament is proposing to bar all single parents from passing on their citizenship to their children in a new national constitution, sparking outrage among rights activists.

"It is like being a refugee in your own country," said Gurung.

"All they do is interrogate, torture and harass women, demanding the father's documents... When a father applies for his children's citizenship, no questions are asked."

Activists say the move could leave a million people stateless and will disproportionately affect women, who account for the vast majority of single parents in Nepal.

The draft bill says both parents must be Nepalese for their child to acquire citizenship, which is needed to get anything from a driving licence to a bank account.

It will overturn a 2006 act that says children are eligible for citizenship as long as one parent is Nepalese.

The Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), a Nepalese pressure group, says the move will impact a million children, with more than 90 per cent of those affected living with single mothers.

"On paper the law looks restrictive to both men and women," said Subin Mulmi of the FWLD.

"But conservative bureaucrats have room to exploit the clauses to discriminate against single mothers."
The bill provides for exceptions in some cases where the child's father is unknown, such as rape, but Mulmi said the burden of proof would still rest with mothers.

And even though women have been allowed to confer citizenship on their children since 2006, only a handful have managed to do so.

Arjun Kumar Sah was born in Nepal to a Nepalese mother and an Indian father, making him theoretically eligible for citizenship.

But the 25-year-old is still waiting for his papers and in the meantime has had to turn down work because of his status. 

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