GENEVA (TrustLaw) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged countries to tackle a major cause of statelessness -- nationality laws that discriminate against women, saying without citizenship women are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.
There are an estimated 12 million stateless people around the world, who are not considered nationals by any country. As a result, not only are they deprived of basic rights such as access to health care, they cannot vote, open a bank account or own property.
Stateless children are often unable to attend school.
Clinton said globally, at least 30 countries prevented women from acquiring, retaining or transferring citizenship to their children or their foreign spouses. In some cases, nationality laws strip women of their citizenship if they marry someone from another country.
“In this compromised state, women and children are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and arbitrary arrest and detention,” she told ministers attending a meeting of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, in Geneva.
“ … that hurts whole societies – because when women are given the opportunity to participate equally, they contribute to their countries democratic governance, peace and stability and economic development.”
Clinton said the United States would work to persuade governments to change laws to ensure all children were provided with a birth certificate.
She also called for more effective ways of dealing with refugees, displaced and stateless people – whether that means training immigration judges or border guards on how to treat asylum seekers with efficiency and compassion or providing counselling services to refugees who have suffered sexual violence.
Aid agency Plan International welcomed Clinton’s remarks.
“Some 51 million children go unregistered every year and among them are the most marginalised, vulnerable and disenfranchised children in many countries,” said Nadya Kassam, Plan’s head of global advocacy.
“A birth certificate can help all children to access their rights so we join the call on all states to ensure universal birth registration.”
UNHCR has been spearheading a campaign to draw attention to the plight of the world’s stateless.
Yet out of the 193 U.N. member states, only 68 countries are parties to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 40 have signed the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
** FOR MORE ABOUT STATELESSNESS SEE OUR MULTIMEDIA SPECIAL **