Wednesday, 29 August 2012

GUEST POST: The benefits of birth registration to children, youth and governments

Plan is an international child-centred community development (CCCD) organisation, working across 50 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognises that every child has the right to be registered immediately after birth and has the right to preserve his or her own identity through a nationality, name and family ties. In 2005, Plan officially launched its first global UBR campaign, now renamed ‘Count Every Child’ which has had a major impact globally on engaging communities and governments in birth registration. Plan also plays a pivotal role in influencing and strengthening the work of key human rights bodies in promoting adequate implementation and monitoring of the right to birth registration by states. In addition, Plan’s work on birth registration has led to the development of some important global partnerships such as with UNHCR on linking birth registration to statelessness.

Despite these achievements, little is still known internationally about the benefits birth registration can bring to children, youth and governments. Poverty and social disadvantage play a key role in determining which children are not registered and where. Global studies have empirically established that unregistered children tend to be poor, live in rural areas, have limited access to health and education and suffer from higher rates of malnutrition and mortality. Other primary research has also highlighted the many barriers to birth registration such as ethnicity and gender, rurality and cost. There is arguably now a growing consensus among international organisations working on birth registration about the groups of children most affected by non-registration and the barriers these children face in realising the right to birth registration.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the leading international authority on child rights, has interpreted the right to birth registration as helping to realise a range of other connected child rights linked to health, education, social welfare, work and the juvenile justice system to name just a few.  Plan and other international organisations have repeated this interpretation by long recognising birth registration as a tool to protect children from exploitation, such as child labour and child marriage, and as a means for children to access basic services such as health and education. There are numerous anecdotal examples of this analysis. For example, in some contexts schools have been known to refuse admission to a child, or to only temporarily admit them, until a birth registration certificate is produced. UNICEF has noted that although birth registration is linked to an array of rights and protections, ‘the exact linkages of cause and effect between the impact of birth registration and all these issues require much more research’. This view has been repeated by some commentators who have suggested that with the international community’s spotlight aimed at increasing registration rates, research needs to evolve in order to assess the benefits that birth registration delivers.

The importance of birth registration does not end with childhood. Birth registration also provides assistance in securing benefits and opportunities for youth. It has been anecdotally cited as a prerequisite for acquiring more ‘advanced’ or ‘sophisticated’ benefits and associated opportunities such as social security numbers required for employment in the formal sector, registration of a business, the ability to access credit, to open bank accounts or to be eligible for microfinance assistance and loans. In this context, Plan realises that birth registration could be important to youth, one of our key beneficiary groups, and its associated programmes, namely those focused on economic security. Birth registration can also be said to play a crucial role for the state. The Committee on the Rights of the Child regularly cite the need for robust and reliable statistical data for development planning and governance as well as the monitoring of progress towards realising child rights. Good governance requires that expenditure is allocated according to need and accurate population statistics arguably provide a means by which states can achieve this. Without accurate statistics, it may be hard to measure progress towards development indicators such as the Millennium Development Goals.

To help fill these research gaps, Plan International is seeking to appoint a multi-disciplinary team of consultants to undertake multi-country research to investigate these issues (autumn 2012). If you are interested in applying please see the Terms of Reference below for detailed information which provides key background information on the identified research gaps as well as the research objectives and research questions:

Applicants should submit an application package by the 16th September 2012 via email to

This Blog was prepared by Lucy Gregg, Research Coordinator at Plan International

Monday, 27 August 2012

GUEST POST: Statelessness - any attention at the national level?

Different international obligations have been established in order to address the problem of statelessness, mainly by the 1954 United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Even though a growing number of states is committing to these obligations by acceding to the aforementioned treaties, a question that is often raised is whether states actually follow through and adhere to their obligation to prevent and reduce statelessness, and protect stateless persons at the national level. As part of my research regarding statelessness and statelessness determination – in my view an important first step in adequately protecting stateless persons in practice at the national level – in the European Union (EU), I therefore decided to test to what extent national legislation of EU member states actually pays any attention to statelessness. I did so by undertaking a small study into references to statelessness in the main laws regarding nationality/citizenship of three randomly selected EU member states: Czech Republic, Italy and Luxembourg. Of these countries, only Czech Republic is a States Party to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions; Italy and Luxembourg have both only ratified the 1954 Convention. What furthermore should be noted is that this study is not only limited by the small number of countries included, but also in the sense that only references to statelessness in the main nationality laws of these countries are considered. This approach was chosen because statelessness is closely linked to nationality, as the lack of this is statelessness. Despite these limitations, I still think my findings give an impression of whether states actually take statelessness into account at the domestic level. This preliminary research can also uncover whether it would be of interest to undertake a more elaborate study into references to statelessness in the domestic legislation of all EU member states in order to find good and bad practices in dealing with the different aspects of statelessness. My findings were as follows:

Czech Republic
The Czech Act to regulate the Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship refers to statelessness several times. With a view to prevention of statelessness, it provides that a child born on the territory of Czech Republic shall acquire Czech citizenship if its parents are stateless and at least one of them has permanent residence on the territory. Here, a definition of a stateless person is given as well: “a natural person without citizenship”. Furthermore, the issue of statelessness is acknowledged in naturalization and application procedures in the Czech Republic. Whenever certain documents are needed to prove that someone will lose his or her current/previous nationality with the acquisition of Czech citizenship, the Act provides for an exemption with the words “unless the person is a stateless person or a person with refugee status in the territory of the Czech Republic”. 

The Italian Citizenship Law No. 91 of 5 February 1992 (Law No. 91/92) elaborates on Italian citizenship and mentions statelessness. Again a preventive clause regarding statelessness is provided for, as any person who was born in Italian territory, of whom either both parents are unknown or stateless, or where he or she does not acquire his or her parents’ citizenship according to the law of the state to which the latter belong shall be considered an Italian citizen by birth. There are also some more specific provisions regarding stateless persons with Italian ancestors, and for spouses. A more general reference to statelessness concerns stateless persons who are legally resident in Italy – establishing that they shall be subject to Italian law insofar as the exercise of civil rights and the performance of military duties are concerned. This means that legally resident stateless persons can enjoy civil rights and be protected in this sense. From this, it can also be assumed that there is some way to be legally resident in Italy as a stateless person. Both protection and prevention thus seem to be covered in some way by the Italian law regarding citizenship.

The Law on Luxembourg Nationality is active in the prevention of statelessness by providing that all children born in Luxembourg who have no nationality because their parents are stateless shall acquire Luxembourg nationality through birth. This kind of attention to statelessness can also been seen when the lineage of a child to a Luxembourg parent has not been established prior to him or her reaching the age of 18 years. Normally, a child would lose Luxembourg nationality in this case, unless the other parent possesses the status of Luxembourger or when the child would become stateless. Statelessness is also considered in the context of withdrawing Luxembourg nationality where it was obtained through fraudulent procedures: withdrawal is impossible if this would render the person concerned stateless. In the provisions regarding naturalization, however, no reference to statelessness is to be found. Still, Luxembourg laws clearly try to prevent statelessness, which should be commended.

Though this is only a limited study of references to statelessness in domestic laws of EU member states, some conclusions can be drawn. First of all, it is clear that there definitely are such references to be found – at least in the three countries studied – and that states do pay attention to statelessness at the domestic level. Secondly, the laws studied take statelessness into account in different ways, but certainly all have an interest in preventing statelessness. This could be expected because the rules studied are those dealing with access to nationality. Yet this might imply that in other laws, for example regarding aliens or refugees, references regarding the protection of stateless persons are also included. Overall I think this little piece of research shows that the implementation of the international obligations regarding statelessness at the national level is in need of further inquiry. Also, it demonstrates that states have already taken an interest in the issue of statelessness and sought to address certain problems through their laws. States should therefore be encouraged to join the international treaties on statelessness, and for States Parties to the conventions, guidelines, such as the Guidelines that are being issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), that clarify the commitments and provide guidance in designing the appropriate domestic legislation are important for adequate implementation. Greater attention for the issue and more research will remain key in this process.

Caia Vlieks, Research Master Student, Tilburg Law School

Friday, 17 August 2012

Refworld: A key resource on all things statelessness!

Refworld, a leading online resource containing valuable legal, policy and academic information relating to asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons compiled by UNHCR, also holds a wide range of resources relating to statelessness. These resources can be found on the regularly updated Statelessness Special Features Page, available at:
The Statelessness Special Features page gives Government authorities, legal practitioners, NGOs, students, stateless persons and interested individuals, access to the most up-to-date legal, policy and practical documents relating to statelessness. For example, the page includes updates and maps on the most recent accessions to the two international statelessness conventions, a comprehensive list of the most important UNHCR policy and guidance documents relating to statelessness, a global database of current nationality laws, recent country studies on statelessness situations around the world and links to key organisations working on statelessness issues globally.

This explanatory text about Refworld is courtesy of UNHCR's Statelessness Unit, Geneva