“I welcome the Latvian Parliament taking a decisive step toward eliminating child statelessness with the adoption of a law to grant automatic citizenship to children of “non-citizens” as of 1st January 2020, unless the parents opt for another nationality. This measure represents significant progress toward implementing the right of each child to a nationality at birth and toward fully including all children in Latvian society,” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.
“Non-citizens” are members of Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority who did not acquire either Latvian or Russian citizenship in 1991. There were about 230000 “non-citizens” in Latvia on 1 January 2018. “Non-citizens” are deprived of the right to vote in national parliamentary elections and cannot occupy certain positions in local and national government and civil service; otherwise, they have essentially the same political and civil rights as Latvians.
Despite previous reforms in 2011 and 2013 which simplified acquisition of Latvian citizenship for children, a few dozen children continue not to be granted any citizenship at birth each year in Latvia.
“I welcome the fact that children of “non-citizens” born abroad or whose other parent is not Latvian will be included in this measure. I regret however that the parliament did not extend automatic citizenship to all stateless children in Latvia who are currently under 15,” the Commissioner added. “Non-citizen” children between 15 and 18 can already apply for Latvian citizenship. As of 1 July 2016, there were 4816 “non-citizen” children under 15 in the country.
Access to citizenship is a fundamental human right that in turn confers certain formal legal rights such as the right to vote and the right to be elected. Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Latvia is a state party, clearly provides for the child’s right to acquire a nationality at birth. While the “non-citizen” status in Latvia enables stateless children to access education and health care, the lack of citizenship can expose children to discrimination, lead them to not feel at home in the country in which they live or jeopardise their chances to obtain a nationality later in life.