Stateless children and their lost rights

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The dilemma of stateless Lebanese children should be fixed through legislative solutions and a new personal status law, officials underscored Wednesday during the launch of the National Day of Stateless Lebanese Children. Stateless children are ones whose parents have failed, for one reason or another, to register them at birth, which leaves them legally marginalized. As a result, they are deprived of basic rights such as education, medical care, marriage, and voting.

Information Minister Ramzi Joreige highlighted the need to follow up on what was done regarding the issue and “the legislative steps that should be taken to provide quick solutions to put an end to these children’s sufferings.”

Joreige, who has a degree in Lebanese and French law, spoke during a ceremony at the Beirut Bar Association held at the invitation of the National Committee to Address the Situation of Stateless Children in collaboration with World Vision.

Joreige said that the problem of stateless children is becoming more complicated with time amid the absence of a national vision for resolving the matter, “especially given that the number of stateless children has exceeded 100,000.”

He lamented the continuing failure to solve the problem, saying that children shouldn’t have to pay the price for their parents’ lack of knowledge or care.

Joreige explained that the Lebanese media plays a vital role in putting an end to the issue, raising awareness among parents about their duties.

“This dilemma should be legally solved as soon as possible, before it becomes intractable with time,” he said. “In conjunction with this problem, we are faced with an issue that is no less dangerous than the first – the failure to register Lebanese children that are born abroad.”

A bill allowing foreigners of Lebanese origin to receive Lebanese nationality was passed in November, and Joreige said that it is now the responsibility of these Lebanese to register their children.

“A stateless child is a child who is deprived of education, social care, medical care, happiness, and pleasure,” Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said during the ceremony.

Derbas praised the work of the committee, but added that more needs to be done.

“I think that a stateless child is one with rights, and for this there is a plan that the Social Affairs Ministry has launched with the committee and [other] associations,” he said.

The plan calls for reaching out to stateless children and evaluating their situation. A team of lawyers would be formed to provide their services for free.

Derbas also noted that one cannot turn a blind eye to the issue of stateless Syrians, who now number more than 100,000.

“The dilemma is that when Syrians neglect to register their children, when they want to return home, they will not be able to take their children with them because they don’t have legal documents ... and hence they will become a burden on the Lebanese society.”

During the ceremony, Bar Association head Antonio Hashem discussed a study prepared by Judge Rana Akoum. The study, Hashem said, states that judges must not be held captive by the out-of-date personal status law.

“Let’s look at the future and build a sound citizenship on a sound basis, which starts with carrying out a scientific survey for Lebanese residents and expats that gives us a detailed picture of the residents of Lebanon,” Hashem said. “A survey that cares about the populations’ social, health, and educational dimensions ... then the stateless will find a solution for their problems.”

The Education Ministry renewed its commitment to the right of stateless Lebanese children to education, said Hadi Zalzali, chair of the ministry’s Official Education Department.

“The ministry, based on what it considers its duty [to] stateless children’s rights, has for years committed to accepting their registration in schools without IDs and the needed documents,” Zalzali said.

He added that the ministry has been working with school presidents to explain to parents the importance of registering newborns.

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