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Bahamas reviews nationality laws that discriminate against women

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 27 Jun 2013 07:22 AM
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Laura Lucrecia holds the hand of her baby in Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, on Oct. 29, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Bahamas is considering abolishing nationality laws that discriminate against women as it overhauls its constitution to mark 40 years of independence.

Equality campaigners said the move was “very exciting” and urged countries with similar laws to follow the Caribbean nation’s example.

Some 29 countries ban women from passing their nationality on to their children or spouses, or impose related restrictions that do not apply to men.

Flawed nationality laws are one of the biggest causes of statelessness and can create huge heartache for families, campaigners say.

Rights group Equality Now, which has launched a campaign to highlight the issue, is writing to all governments that still have discriminatory nationality laws.

“It sounds (like) a boring technicality, but actually it really affects families in a terrible way,” said Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now’s London office.

Women’s inability to pass their nationality on to their children can have serious consequences including statelessness.

Stateless people may be barred from healthcare, education, jobs and accommodation. They may not be able to marry or even get a driving licence.

“You are really a non-person so it’s very, very difficult to live your life. You’re vulnerable all the time and you don’t see a future out of it. So one seemingly small discrimination in the law has horrible consequences for the families involved,” Hunt said.

LAW AGAINST WOMEN, NOT MEN

Women’s inability to transfer their nationality can also increase the risk that spouses or children may be deported, leave their daughters more vulnerable to forced and early marriage, and create difficulties for women claiming child custody if their marriages fall apart.

Many of the 29 countries - including Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Burundi and Nepal - ban women from passing on their nationality to their children regardless of where they are born. In the Bahamas both parents can pass nationality to children born in the territory, but married women cannot transfer their nationality to children born outside.

In addition, Bahamian women - unlike Bahamian men - cannot pass their nationality to non-national spouses.

An official at the Bahamas’ Constitutional Commission said it would send its proposed revisions to the cabinet on July 2, ahead of independence day on July 10. She declined to say whether the recommendations would include the removal of gender-based discrimination in the constitution, but confirmed the issue was being discussed.

The reforms, which need to be agreed by parliament, will be put to a national referendum later in the year.

The U.N. Human Rights Council urged the Bahamas and other countries under review to change discriminatory nationality laws when it met this month. Hunt, who attended the session, said there were strong indications the Bahamas would move to do this. 

Liberia and Senegal have also promised to reform their nationality laws. Countries that have amended their laws in recent years include Morocco, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tunisia and Monaco.

“There is a lot of positive change in this area, and we would just like to encourage a lot more, and really point out to governments the extreme hardship that is inflicted on the family by this discrimination that makes no sense,” Hunt said.

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