Typically, statelessness may be the result of factors such as political change, expulsion of people from a territory, discrimination, nationality based solely on descent, and laws regulating marriage and birth registration (Shachar 2003; Boyden and Hart 2007; Lynch and Teff 2009; Ahmed 2010). Indeed, the most common pathway to statelessness is that a child’s birth is not registered in the country in which he or she was born; that is, although the child may be entitled to citizenship, an official birth record has not yet been obtained. Birth registration provides official evidence of a state’s recognition of a child’s existence within a country and as a member of a nation-state. It is the first and often definitive step to citizenship and entitlements (e.g., public education) (Boyden 2009), healthcare, and other state services (Ensor and Gozdziak 2010).
Often another scenario, pertinent to undocumented labor migration, is that a child is born in one country and travels without relevant documentation across international borders to live in another country. Regardless of whether the children’s birth was registered in the country of birth, they lack citizenship rights in the country in which they now reside; they have become functionally stateless (Bhabha 2009). This appears to be a common scenario for children who travel independently or who are trafficked—more and more often the case for unaccompanied children coming to Italy by sea or land. This also is a possible scenario for children of mothers and fathers who migrate across borders without documentation and who often remain—with or without their parents— in the host country for a number of years (Beazley 2015; van Waas 2007; van Waas 2008), rendering them functionally stateless.
Key hurdles associated with statelessness as experienced by children can be summed up as limited or no access to healthcare and the lack of social and legal protections (Milbrandt 2011; Kindregan and White 2013). Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of statelessness (UNHCR 2011) because they cannot benefit from education (Aird et al. 2002), which in turn translates into poor employment prospects, labor rights violations, and ultimately poverty (Frelick and Lynch 2005). Not having a national identity makes children subject to social stigma and discrimination. They also are vulnerable to trafficking, harassment, and violence.
In the context of transnational labor migration, circumstances that have an effect on birth registration are mostly muddled by parents’ mobility within and between countries. Figures can only be estimated. The International Organization for Migration (2014) finds that 3 % of the world’s population are involved in documented transnational migration. Some scholars, for example Ensor and Gozdziak (2010), put forward an estimated comparable scale of undocumented transnational migration.
A major challenge is represented by a lack of information concerning the possible acquisition of Italian nationality for otherwise stateless children born in Italian territories. In fact, even though legal safeguards should ensure them Italian nationality at birth or at the age of majority, there are problems in practice. These issues partly relate to the fact that the responsibility to initiate an application procedure rests on the child’s parents. Because there is a noteworthy lack, or shortage of information and awareness, children are often prevented from enjoying their right to a nationality and all related human rights when parents fail to, are unable to, or decide not to take the necessary steps towards citizenship (Blitz 2011; Dona and Veale 2011).