An eight-year-old girl who was left stateless when she was born to Cuban parents in South Africa has not only won her long legal battle to be declared a South African citizen but has opened the way for other stateless children to apply for citizenship.
The department of home affairs initially sought to appeal a ruling of the North Gauteng High Court declaring the child a South African citizen, but after waiting for two years for the matter to be set down in the Supreme Court of Appeal, this week suddenly withdrew its application.
Lawyers for Human Rights, who assisted the girl and her parents, said in a statement the department had finally agreed to declare the child a South African citizen by birth, to issue her with a South African citizen identity number and birth certificate and to make regulations to facilitate the implementation of section 2(2) of the Citizenship Act within the next 18 months to allow other stateless children to apply for citizenship.
The girl was born in Cape Town to Cuban parents in 2008 but could not obtain Cuban citizenship because Cuban law did not allow children to obtain citizenship if they were born outside Cuba to parents who were considered “permanent emigrants”, having lived outside of Cuba for more than 11 months. South African law gives citizenship based on the South African citizenship of parents, but because the parents are Cuban, their child could not be a South African and was therefore stateless.
LHR said Section 2(2) of the act gave local citizenship to such children born in South Africa, but home affairs refused to implement the section. The organisation said it had been impossible to implement the section because there was no application form, but once the new regulations were passed, other stateless children would also be able to apply for South African citizenship.
The department initially sought to appeal the judgment on the basis that too many children were expected to apply for citizenship but LHR said there was no basis to believe that an inordinate amount of children would qualify for citizenship under this section, which was a preventative measure for special cases and would protect the most vulnerable of children. It applied to children born in South Africa who did not have a claim to another country’s citizenship.
Stateless children can never leave South Africa, nor obtain legal status in the country without section 2(2), and it was therefore imperative that the section be implemented, the organisation said.