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Finding A Way Out Of Limbo

A Rohingyan refugee woman sits with her mother (l) and her children at an unregistered refugees camp, outside the official camp at Kutupalong, run by Bangladesh government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The Rohingya are stateless.

Women and children who are stateless are especially vulnerable.

Protecting and assisting refugees is a top humanitarian priority for the United States. And no one needs help more than the roughly 12 million stateless people: those who hold no citizenship and cannot legally call any country their home.

Stateless persons generally exist in limbo. They have no legal identity and no way of obtaining identification papers. And without identity papers, they cannot register births, marriages or deaths, and cannot enroll their children in school. They cannot access healthcare or public services, cannot own property or travel. They cannot open bank accounts, and the jobs that are available to them are very limited.

The situation is even more difficult for women and girls. Like men, they can become stateless as a result of political change, or when states deliberately write laws to exclude minority groups from citizenship.

But many women lose their right to citizenship due to gender discrimination: some countries demand that a woman renounce her nationality when she gets married.

Women and children who are stateless are especially vulnerable. Since a number of countries determine citizenship exclusively by the father’s nationality, children born to stateless women, especially those who give birth out of wedlock or whose husbands may not be present, cannot pass their nationality to their children. Stateless women and children are at greater risk of exploitation and mistreatment such as forced migration and abusive labor practices, and are easy prey for traffickers, who, in some countries, cannot be prosecuted if the victims’ age or nationality cannot be established.

For all these reasons, the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted by consensus “The Right to a Nationality: Women and Children” resolution. It aims to protect women’s and children’s right to a nationality, and to reducing statelessness. Granting women equal right to acquire and retain nationality, along with the ability to confer it on their children, will reduce their vulnerability to statelessness and to serious harm. The resolution urges States to refrain from enacting discriminatory nationality laws, and to reform existing ones.

The United States pledges to focus on preventing and resolving statelessness among women and children, to raise global awareness about discrimination against women in nationality laws, and to mobilize governments to repeal such laws.