The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, praised Liberia for removing gender discrimination from its nationality law, granting women the same right as men to pass their nationality to their children.
With the stroke of a pen, Liberian President George Weah amended the country’s Aliens and Nationality Law on August 5, removing the primary cause of statelessness among children.
The U.N. refugee agency calls the act hugely significant. It says the amended law gives women the same rights as men to confer their nationality on their children. Heretofore, children were unable to access the rights of citizenship if the father was absent or unknown.
Under the new act, children will be able to benefit from their mother’s citizenship even if there is no man in the picture, UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told VOA.
That, she said, will spare many children from becoming stateless and deprived of multiple rights.
“This has major implications from the cradle to the grave,” she said. “It really can exclude people from the rights and assistance and services that other citizens may have by limiting their access to education, health care, documentation, and also exposing them to risks of lifelong discrimination and exclusion, as well as violence, abuse, and trafficking.”
In 2014, the UNHCR estimated there were at least 10 million stateless people in the world when it began its #IBelong Campaign to end statelessness by 2024. Data from 94 countries collected in 2019 put that number at around 4.2 million, a figure the UNHCR considers to be grossly underestimated.
Mantoo said 24 countries in the world today continue to have gender discriminatory provisions in their nationality laws.
“Liberia is the latest country to reform the law and end the gender discriminatory provision,” said Mantoo. “We know that statelessness is a global phenomenon. We know in West Africa there are apparently at least 1.6 million stateless people or people of undetermined nationality. And that is according to government figures. But it is a pervasive issue. So, this is a really momentous milestone in this campaign, in the effort to prevent and resolve statelessness.”
Madagascar reformed its nationality laws guaranteeing the equal right of citizens regardless of their gender on January 25, 2017. Six months later, on July 5, Sierra Leone became the second African country to legislate gender discriminatory reforms.