8 August 2014

Africa: Women's Ability to Pass Citizenship to Child or Spouse Limited in 27 Countries - Report

One in seven countries, many of them in the Middle East and North Africa, have laws or policies limiting the rights of women to pass citizenship to a child or non-citizen spouse, but impose no such restrictions on men, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.

The consequences of such gender inequality in the nationality laws in 27 countries can contribute to the problem of statelessness for children.

This is particularly true in cases in which the father is stateless. Laws don't permit a father to transmit citizenship under certain circumstances, such as when a child is born abroad; the father is unknown or not married to the mother; or when a father has been unable to fulfill documentation requirements because he has died or been separated from his family, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

At least 10 million people around the world are stateless, with no legal nationality or citizenship. As a result, they may lack identity documents and access to education, health care or employment.

These are among the issues that will be discussed at the First Global Forum on Statelessness to be held in The Hague from Sept. 15 to 17. Co-hosted by UNHCR and Tilburg University's Statelessness Programme, the conference is expected to draw some 300 academics, government officials, NGOs and stateless persons.

Pew's analysis of data from the U.N. and the U.S. State Department points to progress in bringing gender parity to nationality laws in the past five years. Countries including Kenya, Monaco, Yemen, Senegal and Suriname have changed nationality laws to permit women to pass citizenship to spouses and children.

And some countries have adopted legal exceptions allowing children with stateless fathers to receive citizenship through their mothers, including Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the report.

AFRICA, MIDDLE EAST, ASIA

Seven countries do not allow mothers to confer their nationality to their children with virtually no exceptions: Brunei, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Somalia and Swaziland. The same is true in Lebanon, where women can only transmit citizenship if the child is born outside of marriage and is recognised by the Lebanese mother while still a minor.

Seventeen countries make exceptions for a mother to transmit nationality if the father of her child is unknown or stateless: Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Burundi, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Togo, the United Arab Emirates and Liberia, which has pledged to reform its law.

Three countries limit the transmission of nationality by mothers but provide exceptions to reduce the prospect of statelessness: Madagascar, Mauritania and Sierra Leone.

Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com

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