1. About the CRC
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“There is one thing that all adults all over the world have in common. We have all been children. Those first eighteen years of our lives in which we learnt the most, grew the most, imagined the most – our childhood years - formed us into the adults we have become. Childhood is finite, but its legacy lasts a lifetime, and the legacy of denial, disenfranchisement and disadvantage which often accompanies childhood statelessness is extremely difficult if not impossible to shake off. Ever.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), with 196 States Parties, is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty (only the USA has not ratified this Convention). It lays down the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children – defined in article 1 as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the body of 18 independent experts that monitors the implementation of the CRC and its optional protocols by States Parties. Under this mandate, it issues authoritative guidance on the content of CRC provisions through the publication of “General Comments” on particular articles or thematic issues. The Committee also organises “Days of General Discussion”, on a biennial basis, to further the understanding of specific child rights issues. Moreover, with the entry into force of the Third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure (OPIC), in April 2014, the Committee is also able to consider individual complaints alleging violations of the Convention.
According to the Committee, the rights set out in the CRC are to be enjoyed by all children “irrespective of their nationality, immigration status or statelessness” (General Comment 6). Nevertheless, nationality plays a very important part in a child’s life. As Benyam Mezmur, chairperson of the Committee explains: “Nationality is fundamental in part because it is cross-cutting; if we look at the 41 provisions within the CRC, there is almost no provision which does not have at least some level of interaction or implication in relation to the right to nationality. One cannot really label nationality as being a civil and political right, or as being a social, economic, and cultural right; it is an ‘enabling right’. Nationality — to a certain extent — can be compared to the right to education, because when people have education, this ‘enables’ people to do things and has a positive effect on other rights. When people do not have an education, this impacts on the enjoyment of other rights. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that nationality is a fundamental right because, similar to the right to education, it can be labelled as an ‘enabling right’.”
Article 7 of the CRC is clear and unambiguous in its affirmation of every child’s right to acquire a nationality, and of every state’s obligation to protect children from statelessness. Indeed, nationality is an important aspect of a child's identity and serves as a 'gateway' right, facilitating children's access to and enjoyment of their other human rights. Statelessness is never in a child’s best interests and international law protects the right of every child to acquire a nationality.