August 5, 2014

27 countries limit a woman’s ability to pass citizenship to her child or spouse

Citizenship laws countries policies policy

To most Americans, citizenship, like DNA, seems like something a parent passes to a child without thought or effort. And indeed, for fathers around the world, that’s almost universally true.

But one-in-seven countries currently have laws or policies prohibiting or limiting the rights of women to pass citizenship to a child or non-citizen spouse, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the United Nations and the U.S. State Department. The U.N. data show these types of laws or policies were present in most countries around the world 60 years ago. In the past five years, multiple countries have taken steps to change these laws — including Kenya, Monaco, Yemen and Senegal. Just last month, Suriname changed its nationality laws to allow women to pass citizenship to spouses and children. 

The United Nations tracks these laws as a part of its work to monitor stateless populations — particularly children who may become stateless if they cannot acquire nationality from either parent. Although in most situations a child can obtain nationality from his or her father, if the father is from a stateless population, the child may also be at risk to become stateless. As a result, these children and their stateless parent may be left without identity documents or access to education, health care or employment.

Some countries provide legal exceptions to allow children with stateless fathers to obtain citizenship from their mothers — including Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, some countries such as Qatar and Brunei do not have such policies in place.

Today there are 27 countries in which men and women do not have an equal right to pass citizenship to their children (or a non-citizen spouse). In contrast, men in these countries have virtually no barriers to pass citizenship to their non-citizen spouse and children. These restrictions are most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where 12 out of 20 countries have such laws. In Jordan, for instance, the law prohibits women married to non-citizens from passing citizenship to their children.

In Jordan, 84,711 Jordanian women are married to non-citizens, and these families include about 338,000 children, according to a recent statement from the country’s Interior Ministry. In Saudi Arabia, women married to non-citizens are prohibited from transferring citizenship to their children, and, in addition, they are required to obtain government permission prior to marrying a non-citizen. Saudi men also require government permission if they want to marry a non-citizen from outside the Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates).

Eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa include nationality laws or policies that limit women’s ability to pass citizenship to their children. While three of these countries — Burundi, Liberia and Togo — have “enshrined the principle of gender equality” in their constitutions, the pre-constitutional laws continue to be enforced, according to the U.N.

Five countries in the Asia-Pacific region and two in the Americas also have laws or policies limiting women in their ability to pass citizenship to their families. In the Bahamas, the law “makes it easier for men with foreign spouses than for women with foreign spouses to transmit citizenship to their children,” according to the State Department’s Human Rights Report. And in Kiribati — an island nation in the Pacific Ocean — non-citizen wives automatically are granted citizenship through their husbands, while I-Kiribati women who marry foreigners are not given that same benefit.

Sources for this data include the U.S. State Department’s annual report of Human Rights Practices, the United Nations’ annual background note on Gender Equality, Nationality Laws and Statelessness and through reference to official country-specific government websites. Download the data used in this analysis here.

Topics: Gender, International Governments and Institutions, Citizenship

  1. Photo of Angelina E. Theodorou

    is a research analyst focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    I am not criticizing of this here; I do believe in equal rights, citizenship rights for the children, etc. I am only curious as to which templates did most of these countries base their constitutions and other basic huaman rights and citizenship laws?

  2. Anonymous1 year ago

    Not entirely true about Qatar: Article 2 of Law 38 says “Those born in Qatar to unknown parents shall also be deemed to be a naturalised Qatari. Foundlings shall be considered as born in Qatar unless proven otherwise.”

    Therefore, children who would be otherwise stateless are given the passport (unless this does not apply to women).

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      To unknown, not stateless, parents…

    2. N AS1 year ago

      This only means when both parents are unknown. Because if you see UAE and Bahrain’s laws, they state this case for children to be attributed nationality and they also state the case when the mother is a national and the father is unknown in a separate clause, which means these are different cases and that in the first case both parents are unknown, and we know all these laws were copied from the same legislation, in which the original Article says the same thing as UAE’s and Bahrain’s laws. The only difference is that Qatar copied half of the Article, and made it worse instead of original.

  3. Chris Loughrey2 years ago

    I don’t see Nigeria on the list, it denies Nigerian women the right to pass citizenship on to their foreign spouses, while Nigerian males are exempt from this limitation.

  4. Luma Singh2 years ago

    I didn’t see Bhutan, Myanmar and Republic Congo (not DRC) in the list. These countries also require both the parents must be citizens to acquire citizenship of these countries. Seems these laws have been interpreted as equal between men and women which is not equal in result. Hope the study will be updated.

    Luma Singh

  5. AG2 years ago

    This is not correct. In Syria, under a new policy established in mid 2009, mothers can pass their nationality to her kids. As the father it’s by default to pass the citizenship.

    In Saudi Arabia, this is correct. However, if the mother is a citizen, the kids get all the rights as a citizen such as reviving tratment in government hospital and free education … Etc. the only different they can not work for the department of defense or department of interior. Also, the mom will be their sponsor in the country and government will pay for the visa (government fee).

    1. Aurora2 years ago

      Could you please provide more information about the new policy that allows mother´s to pass their nationality to their children? Do you know the Decree number or where can that be find on the law?

  6. J.P. Travis2 years ago

    If the religion of Islam did not exist, how many countries wouldn’t let women pass on their citizenship? 2 or 3?

  7. Anon.,.3 years ago

    It must be a basic human right for a person to have a citizenship in a country where the person is born, regardless of their ‘other’ nationalities, or the nationalities of their parents. However, most countries seem to disagree with me, and this is not only ‘Islamic’ countries, where women are supposed to be ‘oppressed’, according to mass media.

  8. suni3 years ago

    This is sad to know. I met a women before a year. She worked as a housemaid in few houses in Kathmandu and was survived with three daughters.She was struggling to get the birth certification for her elder daughter who was going to appear district level exam of grade 8. My aunt was trying to help her. I went with her to the ward office in Kathmandu they said they cannot help as they need her husband’s citizenship. But her husband was disappeared a long back and her inlaws were no more. She was concerned that her daughter won’t get chance to give the exam without the document. So what about the future of those kids?? The reality is so bitter. People in their own country are treated as secondary.

  9. Roberta Other Medicine3 years ago

    These types of policies are also practiced in the United States by Native American Tribes. Membership is determined by blood quantum (in majority) and applied for. Some Tribes have lineal decent (born into) but the other Tribes require a new member to determine and meet specific factional blood quantum. I am from the Crow Tribe in Montana and find it troubling that my children aren’t automatic and risk being “Tribeless” if they have a nontribal parent. All my children are enrolled but there is a growing number of children being denied membership through blood quantum policies. This means they receive no tribal benefits like housing, education scholarships, and medical care. I hope this changes soon.

  10. Thomas3 years ago

    This seemed really useful to me and I thank you for it.

  11. John Bossano3 years ago

    There are many countries where a man does not pass his citizenship to his children, if he is not married to the mother, but a mother does without being married to the father. The UK is one of them.

  12. Nescient S3 years ago

    Being a woman in Nepali is rather sad. I am a Nepali Citizen married to a foreign national. We have a child who was born in Nepal. Neither of us are stateless but our child (a minor) is. Why? Cause I am a woman.

    Minor Identity Card (passport/citizenship for children under 16) has been rejected for our child cause the father is not Nepali and mothers cannot pass it to their children (unless father is unknown or the child reaches the age of 16 and meets few criterias), which means we cannot travel. If something were to happen to me, my husband will have to go back to his country and will not be able to take our child with him (My husband can stay in the country on a yearly visa only until I am alive and cannot get a Nepali citizenship).

    BUT if I was a man married to a foreign national, my child would be first class Nepali citizen (no need to meet any conditions). He would be able to get minority card (citizen/passport for under 16). My wife could get permanent residency and she would be able to get a Nepali citizenship. How is this fair?

    Why shouldn’t my child have the same right as any another half Nepali child, whose father is Nepali? Am I a second class citizen? Is Nepali government saying a man can marry whoever he wants but a Nepali woman has to marry a Nepali guy if the Nepali woman wants the child to be Nepali? Should I be thanking the Nepali government for “changing the law” where my child has to wait for 16 yrs to get a second class Nepali citizenship IF he meets few conditions and has provided nothing for minors? SIXTEEN YEARS not to hold a passport and not able to travel anywhere and be stateless.

    I want to ask why is my child’s human rights being violated? I want to ask why is my right to have a family and choose my partner being violated? I cannot have another child cause my second child will be stateless again. So am I to leave my 2 year old child with others and move on with my life by leaving the country?

  13. Demography3 years ago

    This is an excellent article! I see a huge work summarized in a short, concise and interesting text. I am going to share this article on my Facebook group “Demography – the study of human population and society”. In the post I will try to make more connection between immigration and those laws.

  14. carl3 years ago

    i would say that the u.a.e is doing nothing to change it the husband of the u.a.e women is not getting any profit or any access to jobs and education or full health benefits not even a permanent residence he has to renew it every 3 years with a fit medical check up it insane imagine he get sick he leave his kids and wife!! there is a lot of discrimination.

  15. mhamed3 years ago

    am Muslim and i will tell you that in Islam all women’s should be treated equally and when our prophet (peace be upon him) was sent we didn’t have in that time something called citizenship we Muslim should be all the same brothers and sisters i don’t know why they talk about sharia in the wrong way it is just an excuse to not apply the equality of citizenship am in the GCC and am married to GCC women and am suffering because of am not a citizen of the GCC i have no right to education unless i pay for it, same health benefit unless i run some paper work every year to just get some not full benefit just some and the worst is employment am not working cause i cant get a job if am not a citizen i cant get a good salary to provide a good life for my family is really infecting my marriage and my life in bad way, i love my wife but i cant keep living like this cause we are struggling life is expensive am just surviving and hoping that this year something will happen otherwise i will go away. ohh i forget also i talked about citizenship but i forget to mention that am just a resident not permanent i have to renew every time my residence and every time i have to do medical check up and i have to pay fees from my pocket every times i mean at leas they fix the residence first to sad

  16. Bob3 years ago

    Please note — the map (and countries shown) indicate this is [again] a “rule” is Islamic dominated countries. Where women have few (or no) rights. So, if you like the idea of a woman not passing citizenship along to her child/children, then you are more or less in alignment with Islamic/Muslim Sharia tenets.

  17. Muthyavan.3 years ago

    Will these abuse of humans in 27 countries will change like it has changed in many countries in recent times. A joint effort by UNO and other countries should take up the case of suffering and abuse of women in the present democratic world. Specially in Nigeria where a terrorist group is kidnaping girls from schools.

  18. Elan3 years ago

    I would refer the author to UAE media and WAM to learn of a 2011 UAE Presidential decree granting children of Emirati women married to non-nationals the right to apply for citizenship after reaching the age of 18. This has been an effective mechanism and, as of 2013, over 500 had received citizenship.

    1. Angelina Theodorou3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, according to the 2011 decree, a mother cannot pass citizenship to her child – but the child may apply for citizenship when they become an adult (18). According to both sources used in our data, Emirati women cannot pass citizenship to children under 18 unless the father is unknown or stateless (for reference: and… &dlid=220380 ).



  19. Judith B.3 years ago

    I think this article is forgetting Guinea, Mali and Niger in West Africa:
    Guinea: See articles 30 to 33 of Nationality Law : Mothers unable to confer their nationality if the child is born in the territory or abroad and the father is a foreigner unless the father is unknown or stateless.
    Mali: See article 8 of Nationality Law: Mothers able to confer their nationality if the child cannot have the nationality of the father.
    Niger: See article 10 of Nationality Law: Mothers unable to confer their nationality if the child is born in the territory or abroad and the father is a foreigner unless the father is unknown or stateless.
    But maybe i’m wrong?

    1. Angelina Theodorou3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment Judith. In Mali and Guinea, we found that nationality laws include a provision for children who have a mother married to a non-citizen father. For example in Mali: “Article 8 Malian nationality is attached, either born in Mali or abroad, to: […] section (5) a child born of a Malian mother and a foreign father but subject to the minor’s right to renounce Malian nationality, as provided by the law, within six months following his majority.” The Guinea civil code (articles 31-33) also includes a similar provision. The two main sources used in this analysis (the State Department Human Rights Report 2013 and the UN annual background note on nationality laws), did not indicate that current nationality law/policy in Niger limits women from passing citizenship to their child.



      1. Judith B.3 years ago

        Thank you for your response! For Niger you’re right, i’m sorry, i didn’t know that there were a modification of the law in 1999; and this modification make the rights of women equals to the rights of men concerning nationality. Thank you for your information! Judith.

      2. Judith B.3 years ago

        For Mali: For me article 8 section 5 is saying that mothers can transmit their nationality only if the nationality of the father cannot be transmit.
        I don’t know if you understand french:
        Article .8 « Est Malien, qu’il soit né au Mali ou à l’étranger : 

        1. l’enfant légitime né d’un père malien;
2. l’enfant légitime né d’une mère malienne et d’un père 
apatride ou de nationalité inconnue;

        3. l’enfant naturel lorsque celui de ses parents à l’égard 
duquel la filiation a d’abord été établie est malien;

        4. l’enfant naturel lorsque celui de ses parents à l’égard duquel la filiation a été établie en second lieu est malien, si l’autre parent est apatride ou de nationalité 

        5. l’enfant de mère malienne et de père étranger lorsque
la loi nationale du père ne s’applique pas à l’enfant. » It’s the law of 1962 modified in 1995 (found on refworld) but maybe there is another recent modification?

        1. Angelina Theodorou3 years ago

          Hi Judith,

          Below is a link to the law I cited (I should have included this in my previous response) Act No. 1962.18 AN.RM of 3 February 1962, Code of Malian Nationality (amended 1995) [], No. 1962.18, 3 February 1962, available at:
          According to the law (in French), and the English translation on the Refworld site, section 5 was newly added:

          “ART. 8 – 5 (NOUVEAU)
          L’enfant de mère malienne et de père étranger sauf à lui de répudier la nationalité malienne par les formes de droit dans les six mois suivant sa majorité.”

          (5) a child born of a Malian mother and a foreign father but subject to the minor’s right to renounce Malian nationality, as provided by the law, within six months following his majority.



          1. Judith B.3 years ago

            Thank you for your response and help!