Citizenship Through the Father “and/or” Mother in Nepal
- By: Catherine Harrington •
- Posted: March 23, 2015 •
- Asia Pacific
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After nearly eight years of deliberation by two consecutive Constituent Assemblies, Nepal’s draft Constitution, if passed, will result in a significant increase in stateless children, while allowing gender discrimination by state authorities to persist.
Enacted in the wake of the country’s decade-long civil war, the country’s current provisional constitution states that anyone “whose father or mother is a citizen of Nepal at the birth of such person” is eligible to apply for Nepali citizenship. However, Article 8(7) of the Interim Constitution states that the children of Nepali women and foreign men can only access citizenship through naturalization, not by right, through descent. There is no similar restriction on children of Nepali men. One of the consequences of Article 8(7), is that state authorities often refuse to accept citizenship applications submitted only by mothers, as they require proof of the father’s identity to establish that he is not a foreigner.
As in the 26 other countries where such discriminatory nationality laws persist, this means children denied their mother’s citizenship have limited access to public education, health care, and eventually jobs and state-recognized marriages. They are often unable to open a bank account and cannot secure a passport. Limited access to such essential human services often seriously impacts stateless persons’ long-term health and economic security. Much worse, stateless children face higher instances of child labor, trafficking and other forms of exploitation. 
Alarmingly, a proposed shift from the conjunction “or” to “and” in the new Constitution, if passed, promises to dramatically increase the number of children faced with these hardships and human rights violations.
Reintroduced in the January 22 meeting of the Constituent Assembly, the proposed change would require proof of both the mother and father’s Nepali citizenship in order for a child to be considered Nepali by descent.
Ironically, at the start of this latest round of Constitutional negotiations, there were high hopes that the new constitution would grant women the right to confer nationality to their children, both advancing gender equality and helping to eradicate statelessness in the country. But after an initial commitment by the major political parties, several withdrew their support and returned to advocating for citizenship only for children of Nepali fathers and mothers.
While the proposed revision threatens all single parents, it is expected that single women and their children would be particularly disadvantaged, due to discriminatory practices by local authorities. Moreover, the new Constitution is expected to continue to deny women the right to confer nationality to foreign spouses – a fact that risks breaking up families, as foreign fathers without proper documentation may be forced to work abroad.
Despite these setbacks, champions of Nepali women’s right to confer nationality to children, including the Forum for Women, Law and Development, the Nepal Civil Society Network of Citizenship Rights and the Citizenship in the Name of the Mother coalition, continue to fight for reforms in the new Constitution.