Watch the video, “The Right to Nationality: Women and Children, here

The aftermath of World War II and the reconfiguration of nation states created a surge of stateless populations, which led the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include Article 15, which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and should not be deprived arbitrarily of his or her nationality. Statelessness exists in every region of the world, but remains a largely “hidden” problem without government recognition.

What does it mean to be stateless?

A stateless person is someone who, under national laws, does not enjoy citizenship – the legal bond between a government and an individual – in any country. While some people are de jure or legally stateless persons (meaning they are not recognized as citizens under the laws of any state), many people are de facto or effectively stateless persons (meaning they are not recognized as citizens by any state even if they have a claim to citizenship under the laws of one of more states.)

How many stateless people are there throughout the world?

At the end of 2011, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (the agency mandated to prevent and reduce statelessness) counted over 3.5 million stateless persons in 64 countries, but estimated that the actual number of stateless persons worldwide may be as high as 12 million.

What are the causes of statelessness?

The following are some common causes of statelessness:

• Failure of hospitals and other places of birth to register newborns properly

• Lack of financial ability to cover the cost of registration and birth certificates

• Customs and traditional attitudes about birth registration

• Birth to stateless parents

• Political change and transfer of territory, which may alter the nationality status of citizens of the former state(s)

• Administrative oversights, procedural problems, conflicts of law between two countries, or destruction of official records

• Alteration of nationality during marriage or the dissolution of marriage between couples from different countries

• Targeted discrimination against minorities

• Laws restricting acquisition of citizenship

• Laws restricting the rights of women to pass on their nationality to their children

• Laws relating to children born out of wedlock and during transit

• Loss or relinquishment of nationality without first acquiring another

What are the consequences that stateless people encounter?

Without citizenship, stateless people have no legal protection and no right to vote, and they often lack access to education, employment, health care, registration of birth, marriage or death, and property rights. Stateless people may also encounter travel restrictions, social exclusion, and heightened vulnerability to sexual and physical violence, exploitation, trafficking in persons, forcible displacement, and other abuses.

How can statelessness be prevented or mitigated?

Key efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness include:

  • Creating awareness of statelessness and identifying stateless populations
  • Universal birth registration and other forms of civil documentation
  • Increasing access to naturalization or citizenship by:
    • Eliminating discrimination in nationality laws
    • Building administrative capacity for civil registry

What is the State Department doing to help stateless people?

The Department of State provides humanitarian assistance and engages in diplomacy to prevent and resolve statelessness. The United States is the single largest donor to UNHCR, the agency mandated to protect stateless people. The Department advocates on behalf of stateless people with foreign governments and civil society organizations, and conducts field monitoring of the conditions and challenges that stateless people encounter.

The Department’s advocacy efforts are also advancing the Women’s Nationality Initiative. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the initiative at the UNHCR Ministerial event in 2011. This ongoing initiative seeks to combat discrimination in nationality laws that prohibit women from transmitting citizenship to their children or foreign spouse on an equal basis with men and that often results in statelessness. It aims to create awareness of the problem of gender discrimination in nationality laws and statelessness, and to persuade selected governments to repeal and amend nationality laws that discriminate against women. In support of this initiative, the United States co-sponsored a resolution on the right to a nationality for women and children at the 20th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The initiative is also incorporated in the Equal Futures Partnership to Expand Women’s Political and Economic Participation.

Are there international agreements on statelessness?

International legal instruments related to statelessness include:

• 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 15

• 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons

• 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness

• 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 24

• 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 7

• 1997 European Convention on Nationality

Links and Resources:

• PRM Remarks to the World Council of Churches “International Consultation: Towards an Ecumenical Advocacy on the Rights of Stateless people” 2/28/13 –(

• Fact Sheet: “The Equal Futures Partnership to Expand Women’s Political and Economic Partnership” 9/24/12 - (

• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks launching the Equal Futures Partnership 9/24/12(

• PRM DipNote Blog Post: “The Right to a Nationality: Women and Children ” 7/12/12- (

• Media Release on the resolution of “The Right to a Nationality: Women and Children” 7/5/12 – (

• United States Government’s statement about “The Right to a Nationality: Women and Children” 6/26/12 – (

• Fact Sheet: “Women’s Nationality Initiative” 3/8/12 (

• Former Under Secretary Otero’s remarks on Gender and Civilian Security at George Washington University on International Women’s Day 3/8/12- (

• PRM DipNote Blog Post “Women and Citizenship at Home and Abroad” 3/8/12 - (

• Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s Remarks at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ministerial on the 60th Anniversary of the Refugee Convention 12/7/11 – (

• Then-Acting PRM Assistant Secretary David Robinson’s Letter to the Community on Statelessness – 10/31/11- (

• Then-Acting PRM Assistant Secretary David Robinson’s Remarks at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing 10/26/11 – (

• Former Under Secretary Maria Otero’s Remarks on Statelessness and Gender Discrimination – 10/25/11- (

• UNHCR’s Statelessness Webpage (

• Forced Migration Review (