The campaign launched by the Syrian Women's League to amend Article 3, Paragraph “A” of the Nationality Law, to enable Syrian women married to non-Syrian men to pass on their nationality to their children, has “blown the lid off” the real situation. This demand gained great popular and official support, in a country where any move outside the security “red” lines is prohibited. The campaign has also revealed the surprising extent of a discriminatory phenomenon in Syria. It has exposed the difficulties, let alone crises, experienced by Syrian women and their families who are affected by this discrimination.


The Constitution, the Root of Discrimination


Reading the Syrian Constitution of  (1973), it appears at first glance that it is one whereby all citizens, men and women, are in principle equal. A notable exception is the discrimination resulting from the following two clauses[1] stated in Article 3 thereof, which reads: “1. Islam is the religion of the President of the Republic; and, 2. Islamic jurisprudence shall be the main source of legislation”. This article engenders a religious discrimination against non-Muslim Syrians, as it deprives them from the right to run for president. Moreover, this same article is a ground for “gender” discrimination against Syrian women, for it is applied to legislation which discriminates against women in personal status laws. “Gender” discrimination under these laws has extended to a number of civil laws relating to women. Our example here is Article 3, paragraph “A” of the Nationality Law which reads: “The following shall be considered as Syrian Arab ipso facto: A. Anyone born inside or outside the country to a Syrian Arab father; B. Anyone born in the country to a Syrian Arab mother and whose legal family relationship to his father has not been established.” This means that the Syrian nationality is granted on the basis of kinship to the father who is the “head of the family and the caretaker of its women”; this implies that Syrian women do not have the right to grant their nationality to their children unless the latter’s paternal lineage is unknown.


The Constitution of 2012 has further reinforced discrimination against women in Article 3 thereof. In the fourth paragraph of this article, the new Constitution has secured the right of religious communities to draft discriminatory personal status laws. The article stipulates: “The personal status of religious communities shall be protected and respected”. The principle of the guardianship of men over women enshrined in all of these laws can be considered as “the legal criterion for women's rights” in Syria; meaning that discriminatory effects will be reflected in civil laws, particularly the Nationality Law.


The Syrian Women's League Campaign


In the framework of its national campaign to amend the Nationality Law, the Syrian Women's League conducted a legal study on the discrimination in the Nationality Law and a social study on the suffering of Syrian women married to non-Syrians. The two studies concluded the following:


  • There are large numbers of Syrian women married to non-Syrians, and it is difficult to obtain the exact numbers of these cases;

  • The families of those women are deprived of various forms of social security, except for education and medical care;

  • The real suffering begins after their children finish school, as the latter become subject to tough labor regulations applied to non-Syrians. Moreover, most of them are not entitled to pursue careers that are under the law regulating “trade unions”, since they are required to be members of these unions. Affiliation to these unions is subject to the principle of “reciprocity”. Even some of them who are entitled to membership of the trade union and to practice the profession (after meeting the conditions of reciprocity in the country to which they belong), will not benefit from the union funds as they are deemed non-Syrians; and

  • They are not entitled to own property, except in accordance with the Property Acquisition Law for Arabs and foreigners, obliging the family to register their property in the Syrian mother’s name. In the case the mother dies, they are required to get rid of their inheritance shares that exceed what the aforementioned law permits, within a year.


In addition to the suffering these women and their families experience, it appears that there are a number of women married to non-Syrians, with children who do not have any nationality for one of the following reasons:


  • Syrian young girls’ marriage to men from the Gulf during tourism times, under a marriage contract. The husband usually leaves and disappears, leaving behind a stateless child as a result of this marriage;

  • Political disputes between the Syrian Government and other countries, such as Iraq. A large number of Iraqi refugees from the opposition have fled to Syria and married Syrian women, without being able to register the marriage in the civil records of the husband’s state; and

  • Absence of an embassy of the husband’s state in Syria.


The Syrian Crisis and Discrimination in the Nationality Law


In July 2011, the Syrian Government formed a committee tasked with studying the amendment to the law, headed by the Deputy Minister of Interior. The Syrian Women's League formed a delegation to meet with the chairman of the committee and presented him with the bill they prepared and all documents relating to the case. The documents included a proposal by 34 MPs to amend the law as well as the Ministry of Justice’s reply to the letter of the President of the Republic, which confirmed the unconstitutionality of the Nationality Law and the need to amend it. However, these results have remained fruitless.


In the context of the March Uprising in 2011, women born in Syria to Syrian mothers and foreign fathers who participated in the opposition protest activities, such as the Iraqi Manal al-Janabi, were deported. Similarly, non-Syrian husbands married to Syrian women, who organized an oppositional activity, shared the same fate. One example is Palestinian-Syrian activist Salameh Kaileh. The Syrian citizenship was granted to a number of children of the affected Syrian women, on the basis of political loyalty for some, and based on lists prepared by religious authorities for others.


When the armed conflict intensified in Syria, many of the families of Syrian women who were unable to get their children out to safe places because these kids are non-Syrians, or because they do not hold any nationality and they are not accompanied by their fathers for various reasons, were seen on the Syrian border with neighboring countries.


During the Syrian crisis, many cases of statelessness were discovered among the displaced Syrians, especially those from rural Aleppo. Some estimate the number at 70 thousand persons, divided between the governorates of Tartous and Latakia. Direct causes of this phenomenon are not known. When some displaced women were asked about details, they replied that the husband is not registered and did not register the marriage, and consequently the children. The Ministry of Justice has signed with the Syrian Commission for Family and Population Affairs a memorandum of understanding aimed at correcting the situation and settling the cases of illegal or unregistered among the displaced families in the temporary accommodation centers. The work of the committee assigned with this task was terminated under the pretext that “there are too many cases; thus, it would cause embarrassment to the Syrian government before international organizations”. The committee has resumed its work a few months ago; the results of its work remain to be seen.


 

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


 

__________

[1]  There was, of course, political discrimination in favor of the ruling Baath Party, guaranteed by Article 8 which provides for the leadership of the Baath Party of the state and society.