Ending childhood statelessness
The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges all European states to fulfil the right of every child to acquire a nationality. Yet, childhood statelessness persists. States are failing to take adequate steps to end childhood statelessness. For those affected, statelessness can mean problems accessing rights and services, denied opportunities, unfulfilled potential and a sense of never quite belonging. It brings hardship and anguish to children and their parents alike.
No child should be stateless
All European states have international obligations to protect every child’s right to a nationality, yet more than half are still failing to properly implement these obligations and ensure no child is left stateless.
Will you support our work to hold governments to account?
Across Europe today, children are still being born into statelessness. Many have inherited their statelessness from parents who were stateless before them, while others are the first in their family to experience statelessness, as the unsuspecting victims of a gap or conflict in nationality laws.
Not having a nationality can make it difficult for children to access some of the most fundamental rights, such as birth registration, education, healthcare, social security and housing. When they are older, many struggle to access employment and livelihood opportunities. Stateless children in migration may also be at particular risk of immigration detention. It is harder to protect children from abuse and exploitation such as trafficking, child labour, and child and early marriage if they are stateless and lack identity documents.
Whatever the circumstances in which childhood statelessness arises, the vast majority of children affected have been stateless since birth. They have never known the protection or sense of belonging that comes with a nationality. Yet, childhood statelessness is thoroughly preventable. International and regional standards in the fields of human rights, child rights and statelessness all protect the child’s right to acquire a nationality. Good practice exists and with political will, some changes to nationality laws, and a focus on implementation, Europe could end childhood statelessness.
What needs to be done?
All European States need to guarantee immediate, free access to birth registration for all children irrespective of the status or identity of their parents.
Every child must be issued with a birth certificate upon registration establishing their legal identity and family links.
All European States must improve or introduce full legal safeguards in their nationality laws to ensure that childhood statelessness is prevented in all cases. These safeguards must be implemented in practice so that every child on their territory can realise their right to a nationality.
What I do all day is stay with my sisters and we play with the other children (…) those who are my age go to school (…) I don’t know what school is like, maybe it’s nice, I don’t know.
Our work on the issue
Children in migration
Most children in migration in Europe will acquire a nationality from one or both of their parents. However, some children may not be able to inherit a nationality from their parents for different reasons (including if they are stateless themselves or due to gender discrimination or conflicts in nationality laws, or if they need to register a birth with the authorities of their country of origin and they are refugees). As a result, some children in migration face the risk of growing up stateless, impacting on their access to other right and services.
In 2019-20, we have been increasingly engaged as members of the Initiative on Children in Migration, a collaboration between migration, child protection, and asylum actors involved in joint advocacy at the EU level.
As part of the Initiative on Children in Migration, together with Child Circle and PICUM, we published a policy briefing in April 2020, No child should be stateless: Ensuring the right to a nationality for children in migration in Europe. The briefing outlines which children in migration are at risk of statelessness in Europe and why and the current challenges in realising every child’s right to a nationality. It sets out key recommendations for action at the national and regional level. Our accompanying webinar provides an overview of these challenges, with examples of how some of the issues highlighted play out in practice in Europe.
Our #StatelessKids campaign
Despite their legal obligations to ensure every child acquires a nationality and to prioritise their best interests, less than half of European states have laws in place to prevent any child from growing up without a nationality.
In 2014, following the publication of our research "Childhood statelessness in Europe: Issues, gaps and good practices", which confirmed the need for urgent action, ENS launched a pan-regional #StatelessKids campaign on the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Our No Child Should be Stateless research report, released in 2015 at a major pan-regional conference in support of the campaign, analyses whether European countries are meeting their international obligations to ensure every child's right to acquire a nationality. It reveals that less than half of countries have full legal safeguards in place, and sheds light on emerging trends, including the potential risks of statelessness faced by children born to refugees and migrants, through surrogacy, adoption, or to same sex couples.
Promoting universal birth registration across Europe
Birth registration is key to preventing statelessness and ensuring every child can acquire a nationality. Yet, some children in Europe still face the risk of statelessness due to persisting barriers to birth registration.
At regional level, and in partnership with our members at national level, we promote the right of every child to immediate birth registration, and the importance of birth registration for the prevention of statelessness. Through our work, we highlight the need to address barriers to birth registration for some groups of children, including members of minority groups such as Romani people, refugees and migrants, and children of same-sex couples.
Our Statelessness Index briefing, Birth registration and the prevention of statelessness in Europe: identifying good practices and remaining barriers, uses extensive country analysis of law, policy and practice in 24 countries to identify good practice and challenges. Our webinar, organised in collaboration with the European Parliament Intergroup on Children’s Rights, provides an overview of these good practices and challenges, and sets out what the EU can do to promote universal birth registration.
Understanding and addressing childhood statelessness in the UK
With a few exceptions, statelessness has so far received limited attention among child rights and migration advocates in the UK, yet figures show that 5% of all children granted British citizenship in 2018 were stateless.
With the support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, our Childhood Statelessness in the UK project aims to evidence and promote the reduction of childhood statelessness in the UK. We are working with our UK members, key partners, and people affected by statelessness to produce research that explores which groups of children and young people are at risk of statelessness and the reasons behind the recent rise in the numbers. We are also assessing existing support for children and families affected by statelessness and identifying examples of good practice.
Alongside the research, we seek to mainstream statelessness, influence policy, build coalitions and deliver activities to raise awareness of the routes available to those affected. We are also partnering with people affected by statelessness, supporting them to speak out about the issue to add pressure on the UK Government to enact reform.
Working with European institutions to end childhood statelessness
As part of the #StatelessKids campaign, during 2016 we handed over a petition with over 22,000 signatures to the European Parliament, and held several events, including a joint launch of the report in Brussels with the European Parliament Intergroup on Children’s Rights.
The petition helped persuade the European Parliament to hold a dedicated hearing on statelessness in 2017 which gave us and other invited experts the opportunity to set out a blueprint and call on the European Union to step up action to tackle statelessness. Through our continued collaboration with the European Parliament and other regional forums such as the Council of Europe European Committee on Legal Cooperation, we continue to work hard to seize new opportunities to further advance regional action to ensure no child grows up stateless.
In 2016, 50 ENS youth ambassadors and members from across Europe met in Brussels for three days of training, strategising, and planning on how to eradicate childhood statelessness. After the event ENS members supported the youth ambassadors in follow-up work aimed at taking the issue to their national governments.
Read our briefings, reports and other publications on childhood statelessness.