By Emma Batha
THE HAGUE, June 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Iran plans to scrap a law banning women from passing their nationality to their children, which human rights experts said could help thousands of children living in legal limbo by letting them acquire citizenship.
Iran is one of 25 countries that do not permit women married to foreigners to hand their nationality to their children.
Citizenship experts say such laws can fuel statelessness, potentially depriving people of basic rights such as education, health care, housing and employment, and leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
They said Iran could pass the new law imminently after its parliament approved the reform last month and sent it to the Guardian Council, a clerical body which vets proposed legislation.
No one at the Iranian embassy in London was immediately available to comment on the law's progress.
"This is a massive step in the right direction that will benefit many families," said Catherine Harrington of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights.
The proposed reform could benefit children born to women who have married men from Iran's large Afghan refugee and migrant population, according to Human Rights Watch.
Other countries that do not let women married to foreigners hand their nationality on to their children include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Libya, Mauritania, Sudan and Nepal.
An Iranian embassy official said children born to non-Iranian men were not stateless as they would inherit their father's nationality.
But Harrington said this was not always the case.
Iran's move to amend its law comes halfway through a major decade-long U.N. drive to end global statelessness by 2024 launched as the #Ibelong campaign.
Sierra Leone and Madagascar have since scrapped laws preventing children inheriting citizenship from their mothers and Togo is expected to follow suit.
Melanie Khanna, head of the U.N. refugee agency's section on statelessness, said the shift in Iran looked very positive and likely to happen soon.
"This reform could change the situation for tens of thousands of children in Iran and prevent statelessness for a very significant number in the future," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
U.N. officials, lawyers and campaigners are gathering in The Hague on Wednesday for a conference on ending statelessness, which affects an estimated 10-15 million people worldwide who are sometimes known as "legal ghosts".
There are no reliable data on how many people are stateless in Iran but Khanna said one government survey showed 49,000 children lacked proof of nationality.
Under the reforms, an Iranian mother will be able to apply for citizenship for any child under 18, while those over 18 can apply directly.
But Harrington said the law was still discriminatory as Iranian fathers could automatically hand on citizenship to their children whereas Iranian mothers would have to apply to do so.
"While we celebrate this reform, we urge Iran to eliminate all gender discrimination in the nationality law so that Iranian women have exactly the same right as men to pass (on) their citizenship," she added. (Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens and Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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