Children’s Nationality Rights: The Case of Stateless Children in Jordan
As my colleague Lori Eller explained in her recent post, the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) is advocating for the creation of a network of civil society actors in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to mobilize around the issue of statelessness. This year’s statelessness project team recently traveled to Amman to meet with organizations working with populations who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. The project aims to identify gaps in Jordan’s laws that create or prolong statelessness. and to disseminate information about these organizations’ work with stateless refugees and Jordanians who are unable establish documentary proof of their citizenship.
In partnership with the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) the IHRC also co-hosted a workshop that brought together local stakeholders to discuss the causes and consequences of statelessness for refugees and Jordanians who do not have citizenship status. The workshop highlighted three key issues that contribute to statelessness: (1) barriers to civil registration, (2) gender-discrimination in Jordan’s nationality law, and (3) Jordan’s systematic violations of children’s right to a nationality under international and regional law. As I explain below, while the former two issues are problematic in their own right, working together they effectively produce the third. Jordan is bound by international and regional law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam (CRCI), both of which guarantee every child the right to a name, the right to a nationality and the right to be registered at birth. While States with gender-discriminatory nationality laws may claim that the obligation to guarantee a child with a nationality belongs to another State (i.e. the State in which the father is a national) the obligation applies to the State “in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless,” under the CRC.
Birth registration is fundamental to preventing statelessness. When a child is born in Jordan, the hospital or registered midwife provides the parents with a birth notification — which is simply a record of the birth without further legal significance. To obtain a birth certificate and register the birth, the parents must take the birth notification to a Civil Status Department office and present it, along with their identification and proof of marriage. Parents must register the birth of their children within thirty days or pay a fine. If the child is older than one year at the time of registration, the parents must file a lawsuit to complete the registration process, and incur substantial expenses in doing so.
Many children go unregistered because their parents lack the necessary identification or proof of marriage to receive a birth certificate. Providing proof of marriage is particularly problematic for refugees from Syria because so many were informally married in Syria, where informal and child marriages are legal. In Jordan, informal and child marriages are criminal offenses, often leaving parents unwilling to approach authorities to formalize the marriage and receive necessary documentation. Inconsistent practices across Civil Status Department offices in Jordan also cause problems for those seeking to register civil status. Some offices accept copies of identity documents or proof of marriage. Others only accept originals. Parents forced to file lawsuits to register births after the one-year deadline face a system in which judges retain enormous discretion in deciding what documents, information, evidence, or witnesses to require of the couple. In addition, high court fees prohibit many parents from even pursuing this option, and the cost of traveling to the magistrate court is also a financial burden.
As a consequence of Jordan’s gender-discriminatory Nationality Law, many children born in Jordan become stateless. The Law does not allow Jordanian women married to foreign nationals to pass nationality to their children, although it allows Jordanian men married to foreign nationals to do so. As a consequence, thousands of children — many who were born in Jordan and have lived there their entire lives — cannot be registered at birth, and therefore become stateless. Stateless children, in turn, cannot access healthcare or education, obtain a driver’s license, or even open a bank account. Because of the long history of Palestinian displacement in the MENA, Jordan and other MENA states have defended their gender-discriminatory nationality laws by citing demographic concerns. And with many Jordanian women marrying Palestinian men, the government also argues that the law seeks to preserve Palestinian nationality and, by extension, Palestinian statehood. However, Jordanian men may transmit nationality to non-citizen wives, who are most often Palestinian — and so this justification falls short.
The failure to protect children’s nationality rights is perhaps the most significant violation of the right to nationality in Jordan, for both refugees and local populations. In Jordan and in much of the MENA region, issues of citizenship and nationality are highly sensitive. Nonetheless, the enjoyment of human rights at the most fundamental level depends on having a nationality. The lack of any such status results in severe consequences, leaving stateless persons politically, economically, and socially marginalized, with children disproportionately bearing the greatest burden.
Author Bio: Kayla Ghantous is a second-year law student in Boston University School of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic. She received her bachelor of arts in English and International Studies from Johns Hopkins University. Following graduation, she plans to pursue international human rights in the MENA region.