‘The Children Of Jordanian Women’: Jordan’s Sub-Class Of ‘Non-Citizens’

Under the status quo, Jordanian citizenship is patrilineal, such that a child born to a Jordanian mother and a foreign national father is considered a non-citizen. This generation of ‘abna’ al-urduniyat,’ or ‘the children of Jordanian women,’ are increasingly ostracized in Jordanian society. Unable to access the basic rights, freedoms, and services guaranteed to Jordanian citizens, these ‘non-citizens’ are not entitled to work, own property, or receive public education and health services. While successive Jordanian governments have spoken to granting ‘privileges’ and ‘civil rights’ to maternity-identifying Jordanians since 2014, progress thus far has only manifested in the form of cabinet decisions. In the absence of parliamentary authorization, the endurance of these reforms is contingent on the reinstatement of each successive government. Consequently, the 355,923 ‘non-citizen’ children registered with the Civil Status and Passports Department remain socially and legally marginalized.

Human Rights Watch Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, described the evolution of a Jordanian sub-class: “by preventing women from equally passing nationality to their children, authorities are forcing hundreds of thousands of children into a life of near destitution.” Whitson is adamant that there has been no material progress in securing equity for the children of Jordanian women since 2014, in that “announced reforms have failed to meaningfully improve their lives, proving that half-measures are no alternative to citizenship.” Salma Nims, Secretary General of the JNCW, infers that the Jordanian government’s stance on citizenship has little to do with demographic factors, and more to do with “discrimination against women.” Nims states, “the government offered around 200,000 Syrian refugees unconditional work permits, while around 300,000 members of Jordanian families whose fathers are not Jordanians have to go through several hurdles and long procedures before obtaining a work permit.”

It can be seen that Jordan’s citizenship conditions explicitly violate international human rights law barring discrimination against women. However, Article 6 of the Jordanian Constitution provides, at most, a tokenistic expression of anti-discrimination sentiment, ruling that Jordanian citizens experience “no discrimination between them as regards to their rights and duties on the grounds of race, language, or religion.” In critically failing to accommodate the case of gender discrimination, Jordan lags behind other states in the Middle East and North Africa region. Men and women are equally disposed to endow their children with citizenship in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen. Meanwhile, Iraq and Mauritania permit women to confer their nationality to their children if the child’s father is a foreign national, with the caveat that the child must be born within domestic borders.

Thus far, parliamentary rhetoric has attempted to refute the ostensibly patriarchal character of the citizenship law by diverting attention to Jordan’s large population of assimilated Palestinians. This argument holds that a vast number of non-citizen children are born to Jordanian women married to Palestinian nationals and thus, a redrawing of the citizenship law might jeopardize these childrens’ claim to Palestinian statehood. Nevertheless, the current law affords unconditional citizenship to Jordanian fathers engaged to Palestinian women, underscoring the fundamentally gendered basis of the citizenship law.

Unable to freely travel to and from Jordan or access essential services, this underclass of ‘non-citizens’ possess few means to make a livelihood and support themselves. Furthermore, the patrilineal grounds of the law overlook the extensive contribution and legacy of Jordanian women in their society by denying them the ability to confer citizenship to their children. It is imperative that the citizenship law is corrected, both for the immediate benefit of the ‘children of Jordanian women’, and to overturn the hostile sentiment that constitutional discrimination transmits to society from the top-down.