UNHCR report reveals debilitating impact of statelessness on children

Stateless children across the world share similar feelings of discrimination, frustration and despair, says a new UNHCR report, creating problems that can endure into adulthood. The first geographically diverse survey of the views of stateless children says the common problems they face in the countries under review profoundly affect their ability to enjoy childhood, lead a healthy life, study and fulfil their ambitions. 

Many of the dozens of young people in seven countries interviewed for the I am Here, I Belong: the Urgent Need to End Childhood Statelessness report said that being stateless had taken a serious psychological toll, describing themselves as "invisible," "alien," "living in a shadow," "like a street dog" and "worthless." 

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stressed that the report, released one year after the launch of UNHCR's #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024, highlights the need to end the suffering of stateless children in a world where a child is born stateless at least every 10 minutes. 

"In the short time that children get to be children, statelessness can set in stone grave problems that will haunt them throughout their childhoods and sentence them to a life of discrimination, frustration and despair," said Guterres. "None of our children should be stateless. All children should belong." 

The High Commissioner will, at the UN Headquarters in New York, presented the report at a high-level panel discussion on the importance of the right to nationality. More than 250 people, including children, youth and their parents or guardians were interviewed in Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand last July and August for the report. 

In the report, the children tell of the tough challenges they face growing up, often on the margins of society, denied the rights most citizens enjoy. Stateless children say they are often treated like foreigners in the country they have lived in all their lives. Stateless young people are often denied the opportunity to receive school qualifications, go to university and find a decent job. 

They face discrimination and harassment by authorities and are more vulnerable to exploitation. Their lack of nationality often sentences them and their families and communities to remain impoverished and marginalized for generations. Statelessness also affects the future of young people. 

One young woman in Asia, told UNHCR researchers that she has been unable to take up job offers as a teacher because she is stateless and can only find work in a local shop. "I want to tell the country, that there are many people like me." UNHCR is calling on more countries to support the campaign launched on November 4, 2014 to end statelessness. 

In the year since, regional initiatives and action by states have seen the global community rally behind the campaign. In order to end statelessness, UNHCR is urging all states to take the following steps: 

Allow children to gain the nationality of the country in which they are born if they would otherwise be stateless. Reform laws that prevent mothers from passing their nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers. Eliminate laws and practices that deny children nationality because of their ethnicity, race or religion. Ensure universal birth registration to prevent statelessness.
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