28th September 2023
Library image from the UN Refugee Agency
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Judge orders Cameroon child to be registered in Spain, to avoid being ‘stateless’

In a groundbreaking ruling, a judge in Spain has ordered that a young child who was born during her journey from Cameroon to Europe must be registered in Spain.

The order will prevent the child from being declared stateless and guarantee her full rights under Spanish law.

The ruling on Wednesday is considered an important step in helping to prevent human trafficking networks that have been increasingly active in exploiting vulnerable children in recent years.

The details behind the case explain that the child had been born on 27 March 2020 in Oran, Algeria, during the period when her mother was travelling from Cameroon to Europe.

When the child was aged one, she arrived in Spain with her mother and since then have been living in a humanitarian reception centre in Cordoba, in southern Spain.

Her birth had not been recorded in Algeria and therefore she was technically ‘stateless’, with no assignation to a country and its laws.

By recognising her registration in Spain, under Spanish laws it will secure her identification, therefore giving her access to health care and education.

Explaining the significance of this, Lorena García, a lawyer advising the public prosecutors office, said that ‘it is a question of human rights in the broadest sense and the law in the strictest sense. The goal is to protect the minor’.

Referring to the importance of this and the link with the risks of human trafficking, she said ‘if you do not exist, you are not the beneficiary of any rights, and no one can protect you’.

Library image from the UN Refugee Agency
Library image from the UN Refugee Agency taken in Minawao, Cameroon, which has seen deforestation due to global warming and refugee activity. The UNHCR plans to plant 20,000 trees. Refugees will take part in reforestation. (UNHCR / Xavier Bourgois)

The specifics of this case highlight the issue of how to protect children who are travelling as part of a migrant family to Spanish coasts as an entry to Europe from North Africa.

García explained that these children are at risk ‘if their parents decide to change countries and there is no document that registers them, no one can follow them’.

Judge Francisco Ortega was clear in explaining the obligations that led to the decision, saying ‘registration is directly required by the international norm that obliges states, including Spain, to immediately register any child born who has not been previously registered in another state’.

Referring to the requirements under Spanish law and to fulfil human rights obligations, Ortega said that if Spain had not registered the girl’s existence, it ‘would act in the same negligent manner in which the Algerian state had already acted by not registering the girl’.

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