× Introduction~ Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
An interview with Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child~ Maria Jose Recalde Vela
Using the CRC to help protect children from statelessness in Serbia~ Praxis Serbia
Erduan - an interview~ NGO Praxis Serbia
Advancing children's right to a nationality through the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child~ Francesco Cecon
Activating the CRC - tools for civil society engagement~ Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
Human rights and stateless children~ Hernan Vales
The boy~ Amal de Chickera
Discrimination and childhood statelessness in the work of the UN human rights treaty bodies~ Peggy Brett
Gender and birth status discrimination and childhood statelessness~ Betsy L. Fisher
Axin - an interview~ Thomas McGee
Using the UN system to advocate for nationality law reform in Lebanon~ Bernadette Habib
Using the Inter-American regional framework to help stateless children in the Dominican Republic~ Francisco Quintana
Using the African regional framework to realise children's nationality rights in Kenya~ Mustafa Mahmoud Yousif
Sultan - an interview~ Mustafa Mahmoud Yousif
Table of contents


Betsy L. Fisher

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Betsy Fisher is an attorney and refugee advocate based in the United States. She researches statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the definition of statelessness from the 1954 Statelessness Convention.  She is a graduate of Denison University, the University of Michigan Law School, and Michigan's Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.

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Gender and birth status discrimination and childhood statelessness

Betsy L. Fisher

1. Introduction

In most countries, nationality is conveyed through lineage rather than by birth in territory. When women are unable to convey nationality to their children in these countries, children will likely be stateless in any situation where the father cannot or will not convey nationality and there is no safeguard against statelessness. For this reason, much attention has been given to reforming gender-discriminatory nationality law.

Under international law, discrimination is "any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference or other differential treatment" on prohibited grounds that limits an individual’s access to a human right, such as the right to acquire a nationality or to have one’s birth registered. Thus, if an individual faces additional obstacles in obtaining nationality or birth registration because of their gender or ethnicity or birth status, this is unlawful discrimination. This essay summarises a longer article to highlight how, in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), gender and birth status discrimination in birth registration, family, and criminal law can create new cases of statelessness.

2. Discrimination in civil registration law

Birth registration is crucial to ensure that children who are entitled to a nationality are recognised as nationals, because birth certificates record crucial information which demonstrates the child’s right to nationality through their parents or through their birth in a country’s territory. Many states’ civil registration laws or practices limit mothers’ ability to register their children’s births or limit the parents’ ability to register non-marital children, thus discriminating on the basis of the parents’ gender or marital status. Because birth registration is so crucial to preventing statelessness, states should eliminate all obstacles to and discrimination in birth registration including legal or practical limitations on mothers registering births or limitations on parents registering births out of wedlock.

3. Discrimination in family law

Discrimination in family law can also create a risk of statelessness. Many countries do not have adequate means for non-marital children to legally establish their relationship to their father. When nationality can only be derived from the father, children who cannot verify their paternity – especially non-marital children – may be left stateless.

Other states limit their nationals’ ability to marry foreigners, and children who are born to such prohibited unions will be considered non-marital children. As seen above, this may mean that fathers cannot establish the relationship to their children to convey nationality or that parents cannot register their children’s births. Then, children who are or who are considered to be non-marital children may not receive nationality, which is discrimination on the basis of birth status. Every attempt should be made to ensure that all children, regardless of their parents’ nationality or birth status, are registered at birth and receive a nationality, as required in Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

4. Discrimination in criminal law

Finally, criminal prohibitions of adultery create risks of statelessness and pit access to one human right directly against another. Officials in countries that criminalise adultery report that parents may abandon children rather than face criminal penalties. Abandoned children receive nationality as foundlings, or children whose parents cannot be identified, rather than from their parents. In other words, the child who receives nationality, does so at a cost of the right to family life.

5. Conclusion

Some discriminatory policies create the greatest risk of statelessness when paired with gender-discriminatory nationality laws. For example, if mothers can convey nationality, then establishing paternity is less critical in preventing statelessness. In each case, though, discrimination on the basis of gender and birth status violates international law and leaves children vulnerable to statelessness.