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    Children of a ‘Lesser’ Lebanese Citizen

    Granting citizenship to foreigners is a tricky situation in any country. For many people, being granted citizenship is important because it ensures they receive support through government funding, scholarships and social programs. For others, it provides a chance to remain with their husbands, wives or other loved ones. However, there must be a careful balance between the need that many people have to stay in a given country of immigration and the precautions that must be taken to allow only a select portion of individuals to obtain the coveted prize of citizenship.

    In most countries, foreigners undergo a long and arduous process to become citizens. In the United States, for example, foreigners must fill out much paperwork detailing educational and professional history, collect letters of reference from many sources, and allow their relationships to be carefully scrutinized in order to avoid marriages of convenience. The government wants to make sure that new citizens do not take their citizenship for granted, and that they truly deserve the rights obtained by belonging to a country. Often, many years of an individual’s life are taken over by the preparations needed in order to become a citizen.

    While this can be a difficult and exhausting process, everyone is allowed an equal chance to apply for citizenship. This, sadly, is not the case in Lebanon. The country’s 1925 Nationality Law grants citizenship to those born on Lebanese soil to unknown parents, those born in Lebanon who are stateless, and those married to or born of Lebanese men. It does not, however, allow Lebanese women to pass along citizenship to their families. This means that, no matter how hard they try, children and spouses of Lebanese women are not able to obtain Lebanese citizenship, and as a result are destined to remain foreigners.

    According to research conducted by the United Nations Development Program, 17,860 Lebanese women are married to foreign nationals. If we include their husbands and children, the total number of people affected by the Nationality Law is approximately 80,000, about 2 percent of Lebanon’s population. This is an extremely large percentage of people who need to worry about citizenship and rights for themselves or for their immediate family members.

    Denying Lebanese citizenship to these families greatly affects their way of life. Since the husbands and children are foreigners, they have great difficulty finding jobs in Lebanon and are, similarly, unable to benefit from any social programs available to Lebanese citizens. When a child or children turn 18 years of age, they must apply for work permits in order to remain in the country. If denied a permit, they must return to what is considered their “home country,” or their father’s country of origin. Yet most children have absolutely no connection to this “home country,” since they were not born there nor have they ever lived there. This measure, therefore, is not a return home, but rather removal from everything and everyone they have ever known and relocation to a country where they often do not even speak the language or know anybody.

    The omission from the 1925 Nationality Law holds political and moral implications as well. It clearly contradicts Article 9(2) of the 1979 Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The convention states that “parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to nationality of their children.” Lebanon’s continued refusal to acknowledge the families of Lebanese women as citizens not only overrules this Article, it further tells us that Lebanese women do not count as much as their male counterparts.

    If Lebanese women were considered equal, they would be able to pass their nationality on to their husbands and children just as easily as men can. Lebanon’s patriarchy is so strongly ingrained into its society that the government is willing to ignore its own laws in order to keep the patriarchy intact.

    Though there have been many protests and demonstrations, and though a majority of politicians has pledged their support for this cause of nationality rights for women, Lebanon’s Parliament continues to ignore or overrule any law that would change these rights. If the state continues to ignore the need for full equality between men and women, thousands of people will carry on worrying about their status within Lebanon.

    Lebanon is one of the few countries left in the Middle East which has not granted equal nationality rights to women. It is falling behind. If Lebanon wishes to become more progressive, it must begin by allowing them to pass their citizenship on to their families. The process may be long, and applications may be scrutinized, but it is imperative that everyone be afforded the chance to become a citizen.

    Dima DABBOUS-SENSENIG
    The Daily Star
    04.02.2010

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