The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘the 1989 Convention’) requires States Parties to ensure the right of every child to acquire a nationality. Notwithstanding this obligation, incidences of child statelessness remain in Europe and in that regard European states have failed to live up to their international commitments.
A want of nationality means that a child has no home in the world to which he or she belongs as of right. Moreover, as a result, often that child will lack access to rights, services, standards of protection and the tools necessary to ensure a life lived in dignity with opportunity for personal development.
Surprisingly, there are hundreds of thousands of stateless persons in Europe and statelessness is often passed down from parent to child without action being taken by states to ensure that a durable solution is found by way of acquisition of nationality.
It is not hard to make provision to eliminate existing incidences of statelessness and to ensure that prospective cases do not arise. However, it will take concerted effort by states to make revisions to their respective national laws and administrative procedures and practice.
At the heart of such an exercise is the core task for each state to ensure that all children born stateless on its territory automatically acquire its nationality at birth by operation of law, or as soon as possible afterwards. This is consistent with the 1989 Convention (articles 3, 7), whereby the best interests of a child are a primary consideration when making provision for a child to acquire a nationality.
Moreover, as the excellent European Network on Statelessness (‘ENS’) report No Child Should Be Stateless (September 2015) advocates, further special measures are required of states, to ‘actively facilitate access to nationality where statelessness arises, including the enhanced identification of relevant cases, in order to avoid such scenarios as where a child is labelled as being of “unknown nationality” for a prolonged period of time.’
In addition the report recommends improvements to the provision of information on applicable nationality procedures to those affected, as well as the resolution of the structural problems that inhibit the enjoyment of nationality, for example through the identification and elimination of barriers that restrict access to birth registration for groups vulnerable to exclusion from belonging to the country in which they are present.
Among the groups at particular risk of statelessness, the report identifies:
· Children born to irregular migrants or to Refugees
· Children of same-sex couples
· Children commissioned by European parents through international
commercial surrogacy, and
· Children who have been abandoned
Among the recommendations to governments found in the report, the following stand out as particularly important:
· To design and implement a National Action Plan as part of UNHCR’s #ibelong campaign, which seeks to eradicate statelessness by 2024
· To accede to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1997 European Convention on Nationality
· To implement measures to fulfil children’s right to a nationality, in accordance with article 7 of the 1989 Convention and General Comment No. 5 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Such measures may include:
(i) The removal of any reservations to the relevant treaties
(ii) Legislative review and reform in accordance with international
standards and principles
(iii) Child Rights Impact Assessments
(iv) Outreach and information campaigns
(v) Collaboration with civil society and international cooperation.
· To review and improve data collection and reporting methods relating to childhood statelessness, including birth registration, disaggregating such data by age and gender
· To build the capacity of relevant administrative and judicial bodies (by training among other things) to identify and address situations of childhood statelessness and to ensure that actions are taken in accordance with relevant international standards, jurisprudence and related authoritative guidance of international bodies such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child and UNHCR
The report identifies tasks that are urgently required to eliminate and prevent statelessness throughout European states, whether it occurs among the settled population or among those who have migrated into a state. Its recommendations deserve urgent consideration.