Every ten minutes a child is born into this world without belonging to any State. They come to birth and do not have the possibility to say that they are citizens of a given nation; more romantically, they are “citizens of the world.” But the truth has nothing of the “sweetness” of this romantic vision: there are serious consequences to being born without a State. In over thirty countries in the world, Children need national papers to receive medical treatment. In at least 20 countries, stateless children cannot be legally vaccinated. Among the dozens of young people surveyed in seven countries for the report “I am Here, I Belong: the Urgent Need to End Childhood Statelessness”, many have said that statelessness has had a major psychological impact on them, to the point that they describe themselves as “invisible”, “aliens”, people who “live in the shadows”, “useless”, “like stray dogs”; at present, there are about ten million people in this condition in the world.
According to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U NHRC), which recalls the need to take urgent action, before statelessness renders the problems that plague the childhood of many children insurmountable. Stateless children around the world share the same sense of discrimination, frustration and despair. Over 250 people were interviewed for this report, including children, youth, parents, and guardians, in Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The first geographically diversified survey that collects the opinions of stateless children reveals that the most common problems they face have a profound effect on their ability to enjoy childhood, lead a healthy life, study, and pursue and fulfill their ambitions.
“In the short lapse of time given to children to be children, statelessness can carve in stone serious problems that will haunt them throughout their childhood and condemn them to discrimination, frustration and despair later in their lives” said Guterres. “None of our children should be stateless. All children should have a place where to belong.”
In the report, children tell about the difficult challenges they face as they grow up, often on the margins of society, when rights enjoyed by the majority of citizens are denied to them. Stateless children say they are often treated as foreigners in the country they were born and have lived all their lives.
Frequently, stateless young people do not have the opportunity to obtain qualifications, go to college, and find a decent job. They face the discrimination and harassment of the authorities and are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Their lack of citizenship often condemns them, their families and communities to remain poor and marginalized across generations.
The U NHRC appeals to more countries to support the campaign launched on 4 November, 2014 to put an end to statelessness by 2024. Italy, in particular, was one of the countries that partook in the initiative, making an important contribution to the investigation and the report presented in New York. Moreover, it has also sponsored the event. The Italian Parliament has also approved the country’s adhesion to 1961 Convention on the reduction of statelessness, thus confirming its commitment to combating the phenomenon of statelessness on an international level.
But the papers of the governments often end up piling up on the desks of the ministries. How to make them become real? By allowing children – who would otherwise be stateless persons – to obtain the nationality of the country where they were born; by reforming the laws that prevent mothers from transferring their nationality onto their children on the same terms with the fathers; by eliminating the laws and practices that deny citizenship to children on the basis of their nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, and finally by making sure that birth registration becomes a universal practice in order to prevent statelessness. Applying this only to one’s own country does not solve the issue; we need an international strategy to reach the above mentioned target by 2024. There is little time left and we are late.