Iran announced an end to discriminatory regulations on its nationality law after decades of struggle by rights campaigners and efforts undertaken by the administration of moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
In May 2019, the Iranian parliament passed a bill that granted citizenship to children born to Iranian mothers and foreign fathers. With minor amendments, the bill was approved by the powerful conservative Guardian Council in October last year. Now the government has announced that it has prepared the needed bylaws and ordered its execution to related government bodies, ending decades of discrimination against Iranian women in the country’s nationality law which has been in place since 1934.
According to an Iranian lawyer, the Islamic Republic’s previous nationality law, which was similar to laws widespread among Middle East and North African countries, was in fact a legacy of the 19th century Franco-Belgian constitutional principles. “At that time Iran was not faced with refugees, but the situation has changed and Iran has been home to millions of refugees since [the] 1980s—a great majority of whom are from war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq,” the lawyer, familiar with the nationality law, told Inside Arabia while asking not to be named.
As one of the largest refugee-hosting countries, Iran has been faced with a large population of children without national ID.
As one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world, Iran has been faced with a large population of children without national identification documentation (ID). While the official census data show that there are about 50,000 children in Iran without national IDs, Iranian MP Reza Shiran Khorasani had talked about the existence of an estimated 1 million people in the country without national IDs.
Saeed Teymori is one of those stateless children. He was born of an Iranian mother and an Afghan father, and is now 25-years-old but doesn’t have Iranian nationality yet. “I was born in Tehran, my mother is Iranian; I went to school and lived my whole life here. But I don’t have an Iranian ID yet,” he told Inside Arabia.
According to the latest amendments to Iran’s nationality law, all children of Iranian mothers and foreign fathers, including Saeed, are now eligible for obtaining citizenship both at birth – at the request of their mothers – and after reaching the age of 18, regardless of the place of their birth.
Another amendment which has been addressed under the new law is the removal of a previous requirement to have officially registered marriage documents. This was an important issue, as according to rights activists, there are many Iranian women –especially those in the eastern border areas – who have married Afghan or Pakistani men under Islamic Sharia law without officially registering it in the civil register. According to Iranian law, Iranian women need to obtain governmental permission to register their marriage with a foreign man.
As a result of the growing number of children without a national ID, the government has been faced with all kinds of challenges in the areas of education, health, and labor system, among others. While Tehran has in recent years applied various measures allowing children of Afghan refugees to go to school or receive health services, the measures did not resolve all the problems.
“They didn’t allow people like us to go to school back when I was a child, I had to go to school using my cousin’s national ID instead.”
In the absence of a national ID, people like Saeed are deprived of basic rights. “They didn’t allow people like us to go to school back when I was a child, I had to go to school using my cousin’s national ID instead,” Saeed told Inside Arabia. And the problems for this group of people grow as they grow up. “I started working a couple of years ago. I was always underpaid and never received work insurance because of my situation,” he added while explaining the various obstacles he has faced throughout these years.
Another challenge that people like Saeed and their foreign fathers have been faced with is the annual extension of their residency permit. “My father has been living in Iran for 40 years now, but we both have to continue renewing our residency permit annually,” Saeed stressed. Under the new law, people like Saeed’s father will receive a permanent residency permit if they don’t have any security issues.
On a less dramatic front, there is also a long list of small daily frustrations. Buying a ticket to watch a football match at a stadium has been digitalized and requires a national ID number, for example. “Since we don’t have an ID, people like me have to buy them in the black market at a much higher price,” Saeed explained.
Nationality Law in the Middle East
According to a 2019 report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Iran was among the 25 countries in the world that did “not allow mothers to confer their citizenship on their children with no or very limited exceptions.” However, with last year’s amendment, it has joined a list of other regional countries like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Iraq that give men and women an equal right to pass their citizenship to their children.
Jordan, Lebanon, and Qatar still do not allow mothers to pass citizenship to their offspring of foreign fathers.
According to a recent report by the US Library of Congress, Jordan, Lebanon, and Qatar still do not allow mothers to pass citizenship to their offspring of foreign fathers while countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arabs Emirates, Jordan, and Oman allow the passing of citizenship only if the father of the child is stateless or unknown.
A significant portion of global gender inequality in regard to nationality law is still in practice in the Middle East. Yet, experts and activists hope the recent reforms in Iran, and similar ones being sought by rights activists in Lebanon and other countries, could gradually pave the ground for further advancement of the rights of women, children, and mothers in the region.