TALLINN - A representative of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Estonia to mend a gap in its citizenship law that still bars adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 and children born outside Estonia to stateless residents of Estonia from obtaining citizenship automatically.
"Disappointingly, while Estonia has made some strides in reducing child statelessness, it has not fully addressed the problem. In 2015, Estonia amended its Citizenship Law to make it easier for several categories of people, including children, to become naturalized from January 2016," Helen Griffiths, coordinator on children's rights at HRW, said on Tuesday.
"But there's one glaring gap for children: Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 and children born outside Estonia to stateless residents of Estonia still cannot automatically obtain citizenship," she said.
This week, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will review Estonia's child rights record. It is crucial that this includes child statelessness, Griffiths said.
She said that lack of citizenship and identity can expose children to discrimination, meaning they often don't feel at home in the country in which they live. It can also affect them psychologically.
According to HRW, the Estonian government seems reluctant to want to change this. Estonia is also not a party to the principal international human rights treaties relating to statelessness, stating in its report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child that "persons with undetermined citizenship residing in Estonia are currently enjoying all the rights under the Convention [Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons]."
Under amendments to the Citizenship Act that took effect from the beginning of 2016, children born to stateless parents in Estonia become Estonian citizens by naturalization at the moment of birth. Also, all children of undetermined citizenship under 15 years of age became Estonian citizens by naturalization. If parents don't want their child to become an Estonian citizen, they must inform the Police and Border Guard Board about it within a period of one year.
The same set of amendments made it impossible to strip a minor of Estonian citizenship. This means that minors having multiple citizenships must decide themselves when reaching adulthood which citizenship they give up.