Stateless Babies: The Legally Invisible Children of The Migrant Crisis

In Colombia, babies must be born from Colombian citizens or residents to obtain Colombian citizenship. What happens to babies with Venezuelan moms who face so many obstacles to have access to a Venezuelan birth certificate or a passport? Venezuelan babies without citizenship may become “an invisible generation” before the law.

Photo: Wall Street Journal retrieved

Pregnant Venezuelan women migrate to Colombia in search of food, medicine, and a dignified life for them and their babies. There are many Venezuelan women who could only have access to diapers, milk, proper nutrition and prenatal control in Colombia. Only in Colombia would they be able to give birth without the fear of dying in the attempt. The problem, however, is that Colombian legislation is clear and these children cannot have Colombian nationality and enjoy the rights inherent to that citizenship. The Colombian government is being proactive finding mechanisms to at least give an identity to these kids and reduce their vulnerability by staying in immigration limbo. However, there’s the risk we may be having “an invisible generation” of Venezuelans who do not legally exist in either country.

To contextualize, there are two traditional systems of transmission of citizenship at birth. The first, the jus solis, used as criteria for granting citizenship to those who have been born in the country. According to the second, the jus sanguinis, the nationality is obtained by a person when he or she is a descendant of a citizen of a particular country. Because of this last concept, children of foreigners in a country with the first system in their legislation (the jus solis) have no right to that country’s citizenship.

There are many Venezuelan women who could only have access to diapers, milk, proper nutrition and prenatal control in Colombia.

A few weeks ago I read a report by El País on the odyssey Venezuelan women have to go through to give birth in Brazil given the precariousness of health services and the alarming rates of maternal infant mortalities in Venezuela. According to the report, the annual average of births in the border state of Roraima went from 8,000 to 12,000 in 2017, an increase of almost 50%, mostly of Venezuelan babies. Fortunately, these babies will have the opportunity to enjoy the Brazilian nationality while they wait to obtain, at some point, their Venezuelan one. Having access to a nationality is key to enjoying other rights, and Venezuelan babies, like most Venezuelans, don’t have easy access to birth certificates or passports, especially when they’re born overseas.

The Venezuelan mothers who come to Brazil have the certainty that their babies will have access to Brazilian citizenship, thus all rights granted to a Brazilian citizen. This is because the Brazilian legislation goes by the jus solis to grant nationality so that any baby born in Brazilian territory is automatically a Brazilian citizen.

However, there’s another unforeseen effect of the recent exodus of Venezuelans to other countries, and particularly to Colombia. In the case of babies born from Venezuelan mothers in Colombia, the Colombian Political Constitution establishes in its article 96 that Colombians nationals by birth only include those babies born of Colombian citizens (by birth or naturalized), or those born of foreign parents but who have residency in Colombia at the moment of the birth.

The Colombian Political Constitution establishes that Colombians nationals by birth only include those babies born of Colombian citizens. 

Many of the Venezuelan mothers giving birth in Colombia do not meet these requirements and also suffer, as do many Venezuelans who need a passport, the impediments and difficulties to process the documentation and the registration of their babies in the Venezuelan consulates in Colombia.

What happens then?

When these children are born, many face a situation of statelessness, albeit temporary, basically understood as the condition of a person who lacks a national identity, that is, children who do not enjoy recognition as a citizen of any specific nation, which automatically conditions their possibilities of enjoying different rights.

The immigration limbo of many children of Venezuelan mothers in Colombia must be cause of concern. The UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) deals with this agenda. UNHCR estimates that there are some 10 million stateless persons worldwide and the goal agreed by the countries of the Americas that approved the Brazilian Plan of Action in 2014 is to eradicate statelessness in the region over a period of ten years. The current situation of Venezuelan babies could impede the achievement of this regional goal. Fortunately, other countries with important numbers of Venezuelans such as Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina operate with the two aforementioned systems to grant nationality.

Solutions for babies born to Venezuelan mothers in Colombia have to continue to be explored.

In the meantime, solutions for babies born to Venezuelan mothers in Colombia have to continue to be explored. We can find some in two instruments: the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954, which focuses on the protection of these persons, and the Convention for the Prevention and Reduction of the Cases of Stateless Persons of 1961, the leading international instrument that sets rules for the conferral and non-withdrawal of citizenship to prevent statelessness.

The case of these children confirms, once again, the unfortunate effects of the exodus of Venezuelans, as a result of the political, social, economic and humanitarian crises in Venezuela. And it’s also another sign that what’s happening in Venezuela has ceased to be a national crisis and has become a regional one whose consequences we’re only now starting to see.


** Points of view are personal. They do not represent the position of the OAS.