Stateless children’s citizenship: A humanitarian imperative beyond legal boundaries

The life of a stateless person is difficult. — The Star

WE must firstly understand that none of us made a conscious decision where and in which circumstances we were born. Therefore, we should not turn a blind eye to those who were born to relatively unfavourable circumstances and not feel entitled to our privileged circumstances.

All of us must remind ourselves to maintain our humane qualities when dealing with stateless children. We cannot on one hand claim that we are god-fearing and yet deal with this issue without compassion. For one, the emphasis on safeguarding and protecting orphans is crystal clear in the Quran. Compassion cannot be sacrificed at the altar of legality and administrative convenience.

In a world divided by national borders, the plight of stateless children stands as a poignant reminder of the limitations of our legal frameworks in addressing humanitarian crises. Stateless children, those born without recognised nationality or citizenship, face a myriad of challenges that extend far beyond mere legal status. While the issue is often framed within the context of legal rights and international obligations, it is fundamentally a humanitarian crisis that speaks to the core of our shared humanity.

National boundaries, while essential for the organisation of societies and the maintenance of order, can also serve to dehumanise those who fall outside their purview.

Stateless children, by virtue of their lack of nationality, are denied access to basic rights and services that most of us take for granted. They are often unable to attend school, receive medical care, or access essential social services. In many cases, they are relegated to the margins of society, vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and trafficking. Cruelty cannot be a policy that hopes be guarded against God’s wrath.

The issue of statelessness is exacerbated by the complex web of legal and bureaucratic barriers that prevent these children from obtaining citizenship.

Discriminatory nationality laws, administrative hurdles, and the absence of birth registration systems all contribute to the perpetuation of statelessness from one generation to the next. In some cases, children are born stateless simply because their parents belong to marginalised or persecuted ethnic or religious groups. In others, they may become stateless due to arbitrary changes in citizenship laws or conflicts between states.

But beyond the legal intricacies lies a deeper, more pressing concern: the profound human suffering experienced by stateless children and their families. Without citizenship, these children are denied a sense of belonging and identity. They are denied the opportunity to fully participate in society, to pursue their dreams, and to contribute to the common good. Their statelessness not only deprives them of their rights but also robs them of their dignity and humanity. Hence, any amendments to the citizenship clauses in our constitution should facilitate protection of the stateless children and not become a bureaucratic obstacle.

National boundaries, while ostensibly designed to protect the interests of citizens, often serve to perpetuate injustices and inequalities. They create artificial divisions between people based on nationality, ethnicity, or religion, fostering a mentality of “us” versus “them” that breeds distrust, fear, and prejudice.

Statelessness, in many ways, is the ultimate expression of this arbitrary division, as it denies individuals the most basic of human rights solely on the basis of their nationality or lack thereof.Addressing the issue of statelessness requires more than just legal reforms; it demands a fundamental shift in our collective consciousness.

We must recognise that citizenship is not merely a legal status but a fundamental human right, inherent to all individuals by virtue of their humanity. We must challenge the notion that national boundaries are sacrosanct and immutable, and instead embrace a more inclusive and compassionate vision of citizenship that transcends artificial divisions.

How a country addresses its citizenship issues will determine the Nation’s collective compassion levels. The plight of stateless children garners increasing attention from activists, humanitarian organizations, and policymakers alike. The United Nations has recognised statelessness as a global problem and has urged member states to act to prevent and reduce statelessness, including through the ratification of international conventions and the reform of discriminatory nationality laws.

At the heart of the issue is the need to recognise the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, regardless of their nationality or legal status. Stateless children are not merely pawns in a legal game; they are individuals with hopes, dreams, and aspirations like any other child. They deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, and to be afforded the same opportunities as their peers.

Ultimately, the issue of statelessness is a test of our collective humanity. It challenges us to confront the arbitrary divisions and inequalities that separate us from one another and to strive for a world where every child, regardless of their nationality, can live a life of dignity, freedom, and opportunity. It reminds us that national boundaries are not immutable barriers but artificial constructs that can be transcended through empathy, solidarity, and a commitment to justice.

In the end, the question of stateless children citizenship is not just a legal issue; it is a moral imperative. It calls on us to uphold the principles of human rights and social justice and to stand in solidarity with those who have been marginalised and excluded.

It calls on us to recognise that national boundaries are not ends in themselves but means to an end – the realisation of a world where every child can belong, thrive, and fulfill their potential. I hope our parliamentarians would wish for the stateless children what they would wish for their own when they debate the amendments.

Senior lawyer Datuk Seri Dr Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is the founder of Rapera, a movement which encourages critical thinking and compassion among Malaysians. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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