In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a stand-alone resolution tackling the international problem of child marriage for the first time. Such a historic gesture by the international community was a welcome step, but not necessarily a surprise. Efforts to promote women’s empowerment have rapidly gained traction on the international stage in recent years, as prominent voices have identified the moral and strategic imperative of gender equality—including the prevention and reduction of child marriage—as essential to countries’ economic and political stability.
Yet as the international community collectively analyzes and addresses child marriage, it risks overlooking a critical element of this global problem—an element with staggering consequences for human rights, development, and international stability: the problem of statelessness. Statelessness, or individuals’ lack of legal status or recognition by any country, exists on the outermost boundaries of international law and policy. But it is not a marginal issue. An estimated twelve million people are currently stateless, and the numbers are growing. Many of them are young women and girls, whose lack of legal identity denies them access to the protections and rights of any country.
This Note makes a novel contribution by illuminating the often overlooked linkages between statelessness and child marriage. In many cases, these two discriminatory regimes interact and compound upon themselves to perpetuate a cycle of statelessness and gender inequality that lasts for generations. Efforts to prevent and reduce child marriage are thus especially complex in the statelessness context.
But these problems are not insurmountable. This Note suggests programmatic and policy reforms tailored to the statelessness context and presents a normative framework for alleviating statelessness and reducing gender inequality as embodied in the practice of child, early, and forced marriage.