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Save the Children proposes ‘innocent child’ amendment to security committee

Australian children trapped in Syria may be left stateless by the Australian Government’s decision to strip their parents of citizenship, warns leading child rights organisation
03 March 2020

Save the Children has proposed an ‘innocent child’ amendment to a Bill currently before Parliament to ensure the rights of dependent children are protected, including the 47 Australian children trapped in Al Hol camp in Syria.

The proposed changes to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Cessation) Bill 2019 would ensure that the best interests of the child are “fully considered” by the Minister prior to their parent or guardian’s citizenship being revoked. 

In a letter to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), Save the Children has expressed its deep concern that if not amended the Bill would impinge upon the rights of innocent children and put their welfare at even greater risk in an already volatile environment. 

Deputy CEO and Managing Director of International Programs, Mat Tinkler urged the Committee to consider the amendments to ensure Australia protects the rights of innocent children. 

“The children of foreign fighters languishing in camps in Syria are among the world’s most vulnerable children,” said Mr Tinkler. 

“Our grave concern is that if the Bill is passed in its current form, the legislation will put the welfare of innocent children at greater risk.” 

“Denying children of citizenship puts them at greater risk of exploitation and abuse, a fact made very clear in a recent UN report.”

"We’re aware of a number cases where decisions by the Australian Government may effectively render a child stateless.”

Currently the Bill fails to outline the steps the Minister must take to prevent the statelessness of a child where their guardian or parent has their citizenship revoked.

The ‘innocent child’ amendment would ensure that the best interests, safety and wellbeing of the child are paramount, particularly in the context of armed conflict.

“There are 47 Australian children, most under 5 years of age, who are trapped in Al Hol camp in Syria,” said Mr Tinkler.

“Irrespective of what their parents may have done, these children are innocent and they must be protected from harm.”

"The Australian Government has an obligation to protect these innocent children, to act in their best interests, and ultimately to bring them home to safety.”

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Conventions on Statelessness, Australia has obligations to prevent children from being or becoming stateless. Lack of any nationality has a profound impact on the ability of children to realise their basic rights, including rights to education, healthcare and freedom of movement.

Save the Children made a submission to the PJCIS Committee Review of the Australian Citizenship renunciation by conduct and cessation provisions of the Australian Citizenship Act 2017 in July 2019 and to the PJCIS Committee review of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Cessation) Bill 2019 in October 2019.

ENDS

For media inquiries contact Angus Smith on 0488 330 882 or email media.team@savethechildren.org.au 

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