The face of a typical stateless person is likely to be the face of a child. About half of stateless people around the world are children, yet significant efforts to combat childhood statelessness remain elusive. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR and Plan International aim to change this and have launched a new advocacy brochure “Under the Radar and Under Protected”.
"Under the Radar and Under Protected" raises awareness of the dangers and the risks that stateless children face and highlights the urgent need to address the rights of stateless children. These rights, including the right of every child to acquire an identity, including a nationality, and to be registered immediately after birth, can be found in a number of international instruments – most importantly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by almost all countries in the world.
UNHCR estimates that there are up to 6 million stateless children around the world. Without the nationality of any State, many are denied access to education and health care. "Without any documentation proving their legal identity children in particular are more vulnerable to trafficking, child marriage, abuse and exploitation if they are not registered. A birth certificate is to be seen as a passport of rights," says Gorel Bogarde, Plan's Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns.
The importance of taking action to prevent statelessness and to achieve universal birth registration is also underscored by the Director of UNHCR’s Division of International Protection, Volker Türk, who emphasises that “there is broad international consensus that all children must be protected. We need to make sure that this translates into action to prevent children from becoming stateless.”
For various reasons, children around the world are born or become stateless. Children from mixed-marriages, or born outside the nationality of their parents, can fall between the cracks caused by conflicts between nationality laws. Others inherit statelessness from their stateless parents. In more than 25 countries around the world, women are prevented from passing on their nationality to their children on an equal basis as men – discrimination which results in children being left stateless when they cannot acquire nationality from their fathers. Children who are abandoned without proof of where they were born or the identity of their parents are also at risk of statelessness.
Barriers to birth registration, including discrimination against children born to non-citizen parents or prohibitive costs, also increase the risk of children being left stateless. Birth registration can be vital to preventing statelessness because it establishes a legal record of where a child was born and who his or her parents are – links which are key to proving whether a child has acquired nationality by place of birth or descent.
To prevent statelessness occurring in the first place, Türk notes that “UNHCR calls on states to introduce safeguards to prevent statelessness in their nationality laws”. He also calls on States to become parties to the international treaty which addresses this problem, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
UNHCR and Plan International have joined hands to work together around the globe and in partnership with other organisations such as UNICEF, to urge states to register children immediately after birth and to include stateless children in the development and implementation of international and national policies. States are also encouraged to develop campaigns for free, accessible and non-discriminatory birth registration with the help of UN agencies, donors and civil society. As Türk highlights, “taking practical steps to prevent childhood statelessness are vital to achieving our ultimate goal – the elimination of statelessness.”
"Under the Radar and Under Protected" is available online in English, French and Spanish.