No child chooses to be stateless. It is a fundamental truth that every child belongs – to this world, to a place and to a community – and this should be recognised through the enjoyment of a nationality. Yet statelessness continues to arise because European states are failing to ensure that all children born within Europe’s borders or to European citizen parents acquire a nationality.
The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) advocates as one of its central tenets that none of Europe’s children should be stateless. Childhood statelessness stands at odds with the right of every child to a nationality, as laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – adopted 25-years ago today. ENS is taking the occasion of this anniversary to launch its new region-wide campaign which will raise awareness and promote measures to ensure that all children born in Europe or to European parents outside the region can in practice realise their right to a nationality.
Earlier this year, ENS released a report on Childhood statelessness in Europe: Issues, gaps and good practices. This report concluded that although most of Europe’s nationality laws notionally include safeguards to protect against the risk of statelessness, in reality children continue to be born stateless across the region. 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 victim of a gap or conflict in nationality laws.
ENS’s research identified a worrying array of problems in the finer details of many nationality laws as well as in the laws governing procedures for birth registration, which helps to establish and document a child’s nationality. Numerous countries have failed to include basic safeguards in the law, such as to grant nationality to a child born on the territory who would otherwise be stateless, or to a child who has been abandoned and whose parents are unknown. Even where laws do provide a remedy against childhood statelessness, there are signs that the safeguards do not always work in practice, for instance because these special rules are not widely known or there are no guidelines on how and when to apply them.
As a result of these and other gaps in the way European states are currently addressing the issue of childhood statelessness, thousands of children who have strong and clear connections to Europe are growing up without the protection or sense of belonging which a nationality bestows. ENS is committed to helping to change this picture by: raising awareness on the importance of and measures to prevent childhood statelessness, working with the child rights community to foster a more active engagement on the issue of children’s right to a nationality and promote relevant international standards, conducting further research in order to fully identify what gaps exist in law, policy and practice and developing a better understanding of how problematic birth registration procedures are connected to issues of childhood statelessness. Through these activities, the ENS campaign aims to strengthen frameworks for the prevention of statelessness among Europe’s children.
If this goal can be realised, it will help bring Europe an important step closer towards ending statelessness in the region by 2024 – the goal set by the UN Refugee Agency’s #ibelong initiative. There is much work to be done to meet this ambitious objective but a key challenge will be to prevent new cases of statelessness from occurring, in essence to stop the spread of the problem. With its campaign, ENS seeks to contribute to this crucial first step.