Exploring childhood statelessness in South Africa
Source: Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal
By Fatima Khan
Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal Vol. 23, No. 1
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees set a 10-year timeline in 2014 to prevent childhood statelessness and believes this is possible if the following four steps are taken. First, it urges all states to allow children who would otherwise be stateless to gain nationality in the country where they are born. Secondly, it urges states to reform citizenship laws that discriminate on the ground of gender, so that mothers are able to pass nationality on to their children on an equal basis as fathers. Thirdly, it calls for the elimination of laws and practices that deny children nationality because of their ethnicity, race, or religion. Lastly, and most importantly, it calls on states to ensure universal birth registration to prevent statelessness. The specific focus of this article will be to examine the risk of childhood statelessness in South Africa. It will begin by providing an explanation of statelessness, followed by the causes and consequences of statelessness. It will briefly comment on the two Statelessness Conventions and examine the extent to which the right to nationality in international human rights laws can protect the stateless child. South Africa has not ratified either of the two Conventions on statelessness, but it believes its citizenship laws are sufficient to prevent childhood statelessness. This article aims to interrogate whether South Africa’s laws can protect children at risk of being born stateless and provide adequate solutions to this problem. Through this analysis, the four steps identified by the UNHCR to prevent statelessness will be tested against South African law. This article utilises a child-centred approach, viewing children as beings with rights and not merely as objects of protection, as with the State-centred approach.