Millions of Nepal's children risk statelessness: U.N.

Tue Aug 23, 2011 9:00am EDT
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By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI, Aug 23 (AlertNet) - Up to two million children in the impoverished Himalayan nation of Nepal are at risk of becoming stateless -- without country or nationality -- if the government approves strict citizenship criteria in its new constitution, U.N. officials warn.

Nepal is emerging from a decade-long civil conflict with Maoist rebels that killed 13,000 people and devastated the economy. After a 2006 peace deal, the monarchy was abolished and a special assembly charged with drafting the country's first republican constitution.

But U.N. officials say some provisions in the proposed new charter discriminate against the hundreds of thousands of mixed marriages in Nepal by granting children citizenship only if both parents are Nepali.

"As it stands, the rules are extremely restrictive when it comes to transmitting citizenship by descent," said a senior U.N. official in Kathmandu, who asked to be named.

"It can be one or two million children from these hundreds of thousands of mixed marriages who would be stateless. But it would not just stop there ... the children of these people would also be stateless. It would continue like this for generations."

If approved, the rules would make Nepal only the second country in the world, after its tiny and remote South Asian neighbor Bhutan, to demand both parents be nationals for a child to gain citizenship.

Furthermore, even if a foreign spouse wishes to take Nepali citizenship, rules dictate they can only be eligible after 15 years of legal residence in Nepal, leaving their children in a protracted state of limbo.

With no official documents, children of mixed marriages will have no right to a college education, a passport or driving license, to land, government pensions, to voting or to participating in elections. They would also face difficulties seeking jobs.   Continued...

<p>Stateless Nina Tamang, 18, is seen as she covers herself from an umbrella while she gaze her cattle's near her home at the outskirts of Nepal's capital August 14, 2011. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar</p>