“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Addressing statelessness amongst women and children in Asia and the Pacific

10 April 2017 | Statelessness Network Asia Pacific

Women and children are disproportionately affected by statelessness. In recognition of this the Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (SNAP) will prioritise promoting information sharing and collaboration on addressing statelessness amongst women and children.  

SNAP is a recently formed civil society network with the goal of promoting information sharing and collaboration on addressing statelessness in Asia and the Pacific.  SNAP is driven by a diverse membership and through direct engagement and contribution from its members and partners, particularly formerly stateless persons, stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness.  

A child is born stateless somewhere in the world every ten minutes, with Asia and the Pacific having the largest proportion of the world’s estimated 10 million stateless people.  However, the number of stateless persons in the Asia-Pacific region and globally is likely to be much larger given the limited mapping that is currently available, and the different definitions of statelessness that are often applied. 

Women and children who are stateless or at risk of statelessness usually have limited access to basic human rights such as education, medical care, employment and freedom of movement. 

Statelessness also places women and children at a heightened risk of exploitation and violence because they have difficulty proving who they are or any links to a country of origin.  Such vulnerabilities are recognised by the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Children

Discrimination is a root cause of statelessness in Asia and the Pacific. Whether it be gaps in nationality and civil registration laws and policies, or barriers to acquiring civil registration and documentation (including birth registration). Lack of birth registration doesn’t necessarily render a child as stateless. However, a child’s vulnerability to statelessness is increased if their birth is not registered as without it they are likely to have difficulty proving links to their parents and place of birth. This is particularly the case for children born to women of ethnic and religious minorities, undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and trafficking survivors.

Therefore, combating discrimination associated with nationality and civil registration is integral to resolving statelessness. 

Resolving statelessness through collaboration

For some populations in Asia and the Pacific statelessness has been largely resolved as a result of collaboration between governmental actors, UN agencies and civil society. Such action has included targeted changes to discriminatory nationality and civil registration laws and policies, and the provision of direct assistance to populations to access civil documentation and registration through paralegal projects and information campaigns (see some examples below).  SNAP will support its members to continue to pursue such strategies in collaboration with government actors and UN agencies.

Peacebuilding methodologies have also been adopted by governmental actors, UN agencies and civil society to combat societal discrimination, promote inclusion and create socio-political environments receptive to ending statelessness. Research shows that peacebuilding is more effective if it is gender inclusive.  Therefore, as a strategy for resolving statelessness in specific contexts, SNAP hopes to support its members to explore opportunities for engaging women leaders in peacebuilding activities aimed at combating discrimination, building inclusive societies and raising awareness about the links between statelessness and discrimination.  

Peacebuilding to combat discrimination may also assist to improve the human rights and development outcomes for formerly stateless populations. For example, statelessness amongst Hill Country Tamil populations in Sri Lanka and the Bihari Urdu speaking community in Bangladesh has largely been resolved through addressing discriminatory laws and policies and the provision of direct assistance to populations to access civil documentation and registration.  However, these populations often face barriers in accessing the rights that attach to citizenship due to inherent societal discrimination.

SNAP´s activities

SNAP, in its first year of operation, has incorporated activities to promote information sharing and collaboration on addressing statelessness amongst women and children. 

Such activities include facilitating capacity strengthening webinars for our members on areas such as the causes and consequences of childhood statelessness, positive practices in conducting research-based advocacy with governmental actors, and methodologies for strengthening community based organisations and NGOs. Where relevant, we will integrate lessons from peacebuilding approaches.

We will also facilitate research with our members on childhood statelessness and gender discrimination in nationality and civil registration laws.  This research will inform evidence-based strategies to engage key actors, including peacebuilding actors.

Furthermore, our Focal Points with expertise in Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS), childhood statelessness, gender and equal nationality rights, detention, community engagement, and evidence-based advocacy will lead our advocacy activities with various actors, including peacebuilding actors.  Advocacy will be aimed at raising awareness and supporting action with respect to the right to nationality. It will also focus on the barriers women and children face in Asia and the Pacific in acquiring and confirming nationality and accessing the rights that attach to citizenship.  Our advocacy will engage at national, regional and global levels.

We look forward to exploring with our members and partners how we can promote information sharing and collaboration on addressing statelessness in Asia and the Pacific, particularly with respect to statelessness amongst women and children. 

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