In facing a global health crisis, it is as important as ever to be working together to protect the rights of all children, and to make sure that their nationality or migration status does not prevent them from enjoying their fundamental rights such as healthcare. In many countries, nationality can act as a gateway right to other rights, such as education, healthcare, social welfare and housing, with stateless children often being denied or limited in their access to these rights. This is why our Network has always prioritised addressing the issue of childhood statelessness.
However, despite some encouraging progress in recent years towards improving legislation and practice to end childhood statelessness, our latest policy briefing No child should be stateless: Ensuring the right to a nationality for children in migration in Europe developed as part of the Initiative on Children in Migration sheds important further light on how some children in migration in Europe still risk growing up without a nationality and as a result, miss out on rights and opportunities. With a new European Parliament in place, a continuing Council of Europe initiative to tackle statelessness including among children on the move, and our collaboration with civil society through fora such as the Initiative on Children in Migration, we at the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) are committed to working in partnership with regional institutions and civil society to hold governments to account in upholding the right of every child to a nationality.
Some recent progress made to protect children on the move
Since launching our #StatelessKids campaign in 2014, some encouraging progress has been made towards improving legislation and practice to end childhood statelessness, including at a regional level. Through our sustained engagement with the European Parliament Intergroup on Children’s Rights, including several parliamentary events hosted by the Intergroup and the handing over of a petition with over 20,000 signatures in support of our campaign, we have been pleased to see childhood statelessness become a more established issue within the Parliament’s child rights legislation and policy. In May 2018, the European Parliament Resolution on the Protection of Children in Migration recognised the impact of statelessness on children’s access to basic services and rights, and called for the EU and its Member States to ensure that childhood statelessness is adequately addressed in national laws. When the Parliament gathered in November to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it soon adopted a Resolution on Children’s Rights which further expresses concern at the impact of statelessness on children’s access to rights, and calls on the EU and its Member States to address childhood statelessness.
The need to address childhood statelessness has also been recognised in other key EU policy areas such as Roma inclusion and LGBTQI+ rights. The 2018 Parliament resolution on minimum standards for minorities in the EU recognises the need to end Romani statelessness, and the Intergroup on Children’s Rights recently wrote a joint letter with the LGBTI Intergroup to Commissioner Dali on Freedom of Movement for Rainbow Children, which issued a call for Member States to recognise birth certificates issued to same-sex parents and familial ties between parents and their children. As highlighted in our previous blog, children born to same-sex parents can face a risk of statelessness due to non-recognition of birth certificates or familial ties, especially where the parents have crossed international borders.
Another positive outcome from our #StatelessKids campaign was the inclusion of an action on ensuring every child’s right to a nationality in the Council of Europe Action Plan on Refugee and Migrant Children. This has led to the Council of Europe’s European Committee on Legal Co-Operation (CDCJ) adopting a welcome new initiative to improve the identification and protection of stateless people, with a particular focus on children in migration. We have continued our concerted engagement with this initiative, including by providing expert input at a CDCJ working group meeting in June last year. In particular, the meeting identified possible activities that could be carried out by the CDCJ to address existing gaps and challenges. An adopted report from the meeting confirms that the initiative’s actions over the next two years will continue to include children on the move in its focus.
Remaining challenges to ensuring the right to a nationality for children in migration
Whilst an increased regional focus on protecting the right to a nationality for children in migration is to be welcomed, there are still various challenges and gaps that heighten the risk of children in migration growing up without a nationality and that need to be addressed with both regional and national action, as we highlight in our new paper. Despite obligations under international and regional law for all States to fulfil every child’s right to acquire a nationality and have their best interests taken as a primary consideration, only half of European states have full legal safeguards in place to prevent children, who would otherwise be stateless, from growing up without a nationality. A birth certificate is essential evidence of a child’s family ties and place of birth, and therefore helps secure their acquisition of a nationality. However, children in migration can face barriers to the registration and documentation of their births, such as strict and numerous documentation requirements (as can other groups in Europe, including Romani people and other minority groups). Children born en route to Europe also face challenges in registering their birth and acquiring a nationality.
Lack of awareness and poor identification of statelessness during nationality screening and asylum registration procedures creates a risk of statelessness being overlooked and inadequately addressed. A lack of standardised, child rights-based procedures to identify and protect stateless people also increases the risk that statelessness among children in migration remains hidden and unaddressed. Stateless children in migration are also exposed to the risk of immigration detention, particularly if statelessness is not identified before the child reaches the age of majority and they then lose any temporary protection status they may have been afforded as a child.
Opportunities for joint action to end statelessness for children in migration
As we move forward, it will be crucial for the Council of Europe, the EU and their Member States to work collaboratively around five key action areas, highlighted in the policy briefing and our latest webinar, if every child is to have their right to a nationality fulfilled regardless of their migration status. ENS will continue to work with regional institutions and civil society towards this endeavour. We very much value our membership of the Initiative on Children in Migration, and the opportunity to highlight how statelessness affects children in migration in Europe. The initiative is a collaboration between migration, child protection and asylum actors at European and national levels involved in joint EU advocacy work concerning children in migration. Through the initiative and our wider collaboration with civil society, we will continue to promote children’s rights in regional policy and action, including the right of all children to a nationality.
We welcome new opportunities within the EU and Council of Europe for further cooperation and concerted action to end childhood statelessness. The preparation of a comprehensive child rights strategy provides an opening for the Commission to commit the EU and its Member States to take action to address statelessness, including among children on the move. The 2020-2024 Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy should also continue to build on the previous plan in addressing the issue of statelessness in external relations and preventing statelessness as a result of conflict, displacement and State succession. We look forward to further supporting the Council of Europe CDCJ initiative on statelessness, in the implementation of its next phase of activities and the pledges it made at last year’s UNHCR High-Level Segment on Statelessness, including those targeted at protecting children on the move. Through joint action and commitment, we can and must make sure that children in migration are no longer at risk of growing up without a nationality.