Tue, Jan 18, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Positive moves on nationality

Amid the maelstrom of legislation passed by the Legislative Yuan at the end of its most recent session, at least one clear point of principle made it through the parliamentary fire. The changes to the Nationality Law, allowing children of mixed Taiwanese and foreign marriages born in Taiwan to obtain Taiwanese citizenship, and the slight relaxation of restrictions on dual nationals, are both long overdue.

The positive effects of these changes can be felt on two levels: encouraging internationalization and building a society with more equal rights for men and women.

On the one hand, the amendments will help to legitimize -- and further encourage -- the internationalization of Taiwan's society that is already taking place on the ground. For example, they will make life easier for the many households consisting of a Taiwanese wife and a foreign husband. Until now, their children have been considered foreigners, whose right of residence depended upon that of their father's until they reached the age of maturity, when it expired. Of course, the devil is in the implementation: we will not be too surprised if, especially at the beginning, such parents still find their patience tried by legal and bureaucratic hurdles. But at least their legal rights have now been clearly established.

At the same time, although the law has not yet lifted the restriction on dual nationality for most civil servants, the relaxation on those in academic and technical fields is a useful, pragmatic step. It will make it easier to recruit successful Taiwanese scholars from overseas to return to Taiwan with their specialized knowledge and experience, thereby helping to reverse the "brain drain." It will also make it possible for those qualified individuals who have covertly maintained dual citizenship to legalize their status.

On the other hand, the amendments are one more step in the gradual but steady process of placing men and women on an equal footing in Taiwan's legal code. Ever since it was promulgated in 1928, the Nationality Law had given nationality automatically to children of Taiwanese fathers and foreign nationals, but never the other way around. The blatantly discriminatory nature of this provision has long been a serious blemish, but by no means the only one.

The women's rights movement in Taiwan has struggled mightily to correct the strong biases against women found throughout the country's legal system. It has been a monumental task -- and it is by no means complete -- requiring amendments to be pushed through the Legislative Yuan, clause by clause, on innumerable laws and regulations. Major achievements have included establishing, for the first time, the equality of fathers and mothers in determining child custody, the right of married women to establish a household registration separate from that of their husbands, and the right of married women to hold property in their own names. Unfortunately, many areas remain to be fixed: in order to file for divorce, women must provide evidence of specific crimes by their husbands; joint property still automatically reverts to husbands upon divorce; and children cannot take the mother's surname except under strictly limited conditions.

Nonetheless, last week's amendments are to be welcomed. They are an indispensable step toward making this society more open to the world, as well as closer to international standards of equality between the sexes. Hopefully, this momentum for change will continue.

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