A workshop addressing the vulnerability of stateless persons in the South African Development Community (SADC) was held at the 13th Civil Society Forum.


Stateless people are at high risk of being detained, often for indefinite periods of time as their migration status can be difficult to resolve. This workshop was the second meeting of the SADC Network on Statelessness supported by the Citizen Rights in Africa Initiative.


Statelessness is defined by the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons as persons who are not considered “as a national by any state under the operation of its laws”. UNICEF estimates there are approximately ten million stateless persons globally.


It was attended by three IDC  members, the  Lawyers for Human Rights South Africa, CoRMSA and the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town.

Liesl Muller of Lawyers for Human Rights South Africa tweeted that “Statelessness is a violation of the right to human dignity which is enshrined in the African Charter”.

The workshop found persons at risk of statelessness include those without birth registration, without hospital records, with mixed parentage, those who have experienced the death or desertion of one or both parents, and those who have experienced irregular migration.
Over 200 million children worldwide are born without birth certificates. According to Muller, due to the low rate of birth registration in the SADC region, more than half of children remain unregistered until age five.


Compounding this is the fact that “twenty-five countries don’t allow women to pass nationality to spouses/kids or deprive them of nationality at marriage or divorce,” says Muller.
Adults and children who are stateless are more likely to end up stagnated in detention for long periods of time with little to no control over the blockades that prevent their deportation. This can inflict severe mental and emotional harm on the persons, and would be avoidable if further steps were taken to avoid statelessness in the first place.

Child statelessness presents several very difficult challenges for children in SADC, as it can prevent children from attending school and makes them unable to legally graduate secondary school. Additionally, children can also be forced to relocate to a country completely unfamiliar to them, and can also end up being stranded in detention.


This is particularly pertinent to the SADC as only eight countries of the African Union have the right to a nationality in their Constitution, with three of those being in the SADC. Furthermore, Muller tweeted that “all Africans should be allowed to have dual citizenship, because of the African diaspora”.

Ultimately the workshop concluded that stateless children should be afforded the right to the nationality of the country of birth, if done in the best interest of the child. In addition to this, Muller tweeted that each person who is denied the right to a nationality must be provided with the avenue and means to appeal to court for recognition.

More Information

This handbook outlines the situation of Childhood Statelessness in South Africa and includes case studies and recommendations. It is written by IDC Members, Lawyers for Human Rights South Africa and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion.

This handbook outlines more than 250 alternatives to detention, that are more affordable, effective and humane than immigration detention. Authored by the International Detention Coalition.

This article was authored by Lily Raynes