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: Citizenship, Gender, International Governments and Institutions

  1. is a Research Assistant at the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project.

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14 Comments

  1. Nescient S2 months 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?

    Reply
  2. Demography3 months 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.

    Reply
  3. carl3 months 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.

    Reply
  4. mhamed4 months 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

    Reply
  5. Bob4 months 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.

    Reply
  6. Muthyavan.4 months 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.

    Reply
  7. Elan4 months 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.

    Reply
    1. Angelina Theodorou4 months 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: unhcr.org/4f5886306.html and state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanr… &dlid=220380 ).

      Thanks,

      Angelina

      Reply
  8. Judith B.4 months 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?

    Reply
    1. Angelina Theodorou4 months 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.

      Thanks!

      Angelina

      Reply
      1. Judith B.4 months 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.

        Reply
      2. Judith B.4 months 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 
inconnue;

        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?

        Reply
        1. Angelina Theodorou4 months 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: refworld.org/docid/3ae6b4f410.html
          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.”
          refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/r…

          (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. refworld.org/docid/3ae6b4f410.html

          Thanks,

          Angelina

          Reply
          1. Judith B.3 months ago

            Thank you for your response and help!
            Judith.