By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell announced plans of a referendum to grant Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men to pass citizenship on to their children.
Speaking in the House yesterday, Mr Mitchell said if passed, this will bring the country “in line” with other western societies and see the end of formal gender discrimination.
As it stands now, children born to a Bahamian woman and a foreign man outside of the country are not granted Bahamian citizenship and must apply like any other immigrant. By comparison, children with a Bahamian father are automatically Bahamian citizens, regardless of the nationality of the mother.
“The government is committed to removing the constitutional anomaly which exists with regard to women and the ability to pass on their citizenship to their children,” Mr Mitchell said.
“The government proposes to amend those provisions in the constitution with regard to discrimination against women, so that it is clear that gender cannot be a reason to discriminate against an individual.”
This means Article 26 to the constitution and the preamble to Article 15 of the constitution have to be altered and the matter put to the country in a referendum, Mr Mitchell explained.
Article 26 makes it illegal to afford different treatment to others “wholly or mainly” because of “race, place of origin political opinions colour or creed.” The Article also states: “No law shall make any provision which is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.”
Article 15 is similar and explains every person in The Bahamas is “entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.”
“We trust that the proposed changes when they come will receive the unanimous consent of the House,” Mr Mitchell continued.
“This will bring The Bahamas in line with other western countries and remove one of the last vestiges of formal discrimination against women.”
In response to his contribution, FNM Deputy Leader and Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner rose to commend the government for taking steps to ensure gender equality but also questioned when Bahamians will see such a referendum.
“I’m sure there would have been a lot of flack at the UN last week with regards to these hindrances to the equality of women in The Bahamas,” she said. “Can you say to us what the deadline would be with regards to such a referendum?”
Mr Mitchell explained that there is a process involving the constitutional commission and a presentation to the government about the matter before it can been seen in the House and subsequently go to a referendum. However, he said, Bahamians should see the referendum take place before the Christie administration leaves office in 2017.
“Once those formal steps are done then the matter will be presented to the House,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to be pinned down on a time frame except to say it will be before the end of this term and we expect that going into the next election, the constitution will have been amended.”
In another move, the Minister also announced in Parliament an amendment to Section 30 of the Immigration Act to extend the period for spousal permits.
“The law as it presently reads, which applies to the spouses of Bahamian citizens, will be amended to permit the Board to grant a spousal permit for an indefinite period instead of the present limitation of five years,” he said.
“Spouses will still be able to apply for permanent Residence with the right to work.
“The spouses of Bahamian men will still have their constitutional entitlement to apply for citizenship of The Bahamas, without having to renounce their citizenship of origin.”
This amendment fulfils a promise from the PLP’s Charter for Governance plan on the question of spousal permits, Mr Mitchell said. It should relieve “many” processing issues and delays that accompany spouses’ applications for legal status in The Bahamas in order to reside and work.
Later in his speech Mr Mitchell said: “In commending the draft amendment to the Immigration Act with regard to spouses, we hope that this is seen as a first step toward ensuring that spouses and women in particular have equality of opportunity in this country.”