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Urgent Action Needed to Reform Gender Discriminatory Nationality Laws Causing Childhood Statelessness

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF, and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, which is housed at the Women's Refugee Commission, are calling for urgent action to reform gender discriminatory nationality laws that remain a root cause of global childhood statelessness.

A new report released this week by the three organizations highlights that 25 countries still retain laws that deny women the right to pass their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men, while three countries also have laws that deny men the right to pass their nationality to children born outside of legal marriage.

“I don’t like to be stateless because it is not fair. All my friends go to places and I could not go to them. I feel sad because I don’t have an ID and all my friends have an ID,” said Rama in Lebanon.

“To not have the ability to confer citizenship to my child, on the basis of my gender alone, is disheartening and dehumanizing. Why should I as a woman not hold the same rights as a man in the same situation? I hope that the Government will address this issue very soon,” said a Bahamian mother.

“These discriminatory laws can leave children stateless, excluding them from nationality, limiting their access to basic rights such as education and healthcare and exposing them to life-long discrimination. Being left stateless can also put children at risk of violence, abuse and trafficking, and place them and their families at risk of arrest and detention,” said Grainne O’Hara, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection.

Though gender discriminatory nationality laws were historically the norm in many countries, over 85 per cent of countries worldwide have enacted reforms to ensure nationality laws uphold women and men’s equal right to confer nationality on their children, including most recently Madagascar and Sierra Leone.

The UNHCR-UNICEF led Coalition on Every Child’s Right to a Nationality and its partners, including the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, have been supporting efforts to end gender discrimination in nationality laws to ensure that every child has a right to a nationality.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women upholds the equal rights of mothers and fathers to pass nationality to their children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which virtually all countries are bound, requires that all children enjoy the right to acquire a nationality at birth and that this is without discrimination on the basis of the parent’s sex.

“Before this law, I didn’t have the Moroccan nationality. I felt like I was a little bit different from the others. But now I can do anything I want, like all the other children,” said Halima, who acquired her mother’s Moroccan nationality after the country’s 2007 reforms.

“No child chooses to be stateless – it is something beyond their control and most often their parents’. The consequences for children can be devastating – leaving them feeling excluded and isolated and unable to claim their rights. Ending gender discrimination in nationality laws is critical to end childhood statelessness and ensure every child can fulfill their ambitions and dreams for the future,” said Cornelius Williams, Associate Director of Child Protection, UNICEF.

Worldwide, statelessness affects millions of people. Some 3.9 million stateless people appear in the reporting of 78 countries but the true number is likely to be significantly higher.

UNHCR is mid-way through its #iBelong campaign to eradicate statelessness globally by 2024 and will hold a high-level meeting in October in Geneva to assess the achievements to date, including on actions to reform gender discriminatory nationality laws, and to encourage concrete pledges by States and others on this and other statelessness issues.

“Gender-discriminatory nationality laws hurt children, deny women equal citizenship, and inhibit sustainable development. But, this unnecessary problem has a simple solution. Governments can demonstrate their commitment to gender equality and ending childhood statelessness by enacting reforms to uphold women and men’s equal nationality rights,” said Catherine Harrington, Campaign Manager of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights.


Catherine Harrington, Campaign Manager
Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
Tel: +1 781 264 5783