Stateless children: Falling through cracks of citizenship laws

Stateless children: Falling through cracks of citizenship laws


I’m a legal counsellor in the Refugee and
Migrant Rights programme, where we assist refugees and asylum seekers [to] access their rights in terms of the Constitution. I specifically work in the Statelessness
Project where we assist individuals access nationality. So, a stateless person
is somebody who is not recognized as a national by any country under the
operation of its laws. The Constitution of South Africa, section 28(a), states that
every child has a right to a name and a nationality. The Citizenship Act
states that if a child is born in South Africa and would otherwise be stateless,
then this child should be granted South African nationality. And there are
different ways in which a person can find themselves stateless. You’ll find
the parent comes into South Africa and if that parent does not have
documentation to identify him or her to say where they come from, and they then
give birth to the child in South Africa or even if they come into South Africa
with this child, or if the child is orphaned before the birth is registered,
but if a child does not have a birth certificate should anything happen to
the parent then the child obviously is at risk of being stateless. As an adult
you’ll find that some adults will fall through the cracks of citizenship laws
for whatever reason they’re unable to prove that they belong to any country
because they just don’t meet the definition of what a citizen of a
country is. Being stateless, I mean, [it] doesn’t mean that you come from another country, there are plenty of people who are at risk or who are stateless but are
from the country that they actually live in. I would say that stateless people are
the most vulnerable and in order to access any of the rights actually, in
terms of the Bill of Rights, you require some level of documentation. The biggest challenge with statelessness in South Africa is that there’s no legislation
that protects stateless people or those who are at risk of being stateless. As
much as South Africa is signatory to international conventions, for instance
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the right to a
nationality, South Africa does not have any legislation that would actually look
to protect persons who are stateless. [A] lack of documentation not only infringes upon the rights of those who are undocumented, but it also infringes on
their human dignity, because they are invisible, they are just non-existent. So
the first step in order to document persons who are otherwise stateless
would be to sign on to the two international conventions: the 1954
convention relating to the status of stateless persons; as well as the 1961
Convention on the prevention of statelessness. And then secondly
domesticate those conventions in order to have legislation in place that
protects stateless persons and also those who are at risk of being stateless.

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