Poverty, illiteracy, being turned away at clinics. These are difficulties 44-year-old Angeline knows all too well. She was born stateless in Kenya and for most of her life, faced day-to-day challenges associated with lacking a national identity card.
“I did not go beyond class two because my parents could not afford to keep me in school,” Angeline said, adding that though she has a chronic health condition, it is difficult getting treatment because she lacks an identity card which is needed to join the National Hospital Insurance Fund, a lifeline for many Kenyans when it comes to health services.
But despite the odds, Angeline has many reasons to be proud. Her daughter Nosizi, now 20 and an economics student at the University of Nairobi, is the first among Shona women to make it to university, after also having to overcome documentation-related obstacles. Most Shona women of her daughter’s age are already mothers.
“I am very proud of Nosizi,” Angeline said, though she recognizes that the way ahead for her daughter may still be paved with challenges. “I pray that when Nosizi graduates she will be able to get employment as this will encourage more people from the Shona community to get an education.”
The many disadvantages associated with statelessness have long been suspected to result in a wide array of development challenges and anecdotal evidence like Angeline’s confirm that. But until recently, very few targeted quantitative studies to assess the socioeconomic situation of stateless populations have been conducted.
Seeking to change the data-poor situation and support the naturalization of stateless individuals, UNHCR Kenya—together with the Department of Immigration Services, the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, and with technical support from the World Bank and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NORCAP)—conducted a pre-registration exercise and socioeconomic survey for the Shona community. The Shona survey marks one of the first quantitative studies of a stateless population that is based on a national socioeconomic assessment tool.
Among some main findings, the survey shows that members of the Shona community are more likely to be poor and to have limited access to education (especially at the secondary schooling level) and employment opportunities.
Consequently, development policies and advocacy to support stateless populations may need to direct substantial investment to build and maintain human capital by supporting a transition to secondary school. Specific action needed include removing the requirements of national identity documents and Increasing education and thereby improving employment prospects is one of the best ways to turn the relatively large youth population into a demographic advantage as younger community members enter the working-age population.
Strengthening job-related skills through programmes linked to available work opportunities can also be instrumental in increasing employment rates, particularly among Shona women who currently have lower labour force participation rates.
Recognizing and registering the Shona stateless community as Kenyans can yield positive impacts not only for the Shona community but for Kenyans overall. It will further support the Shona community’s integration into the formal labour market, building human capital, and contributing to the nation’s socioeconomic development.
“All we need from the government are birth certificates and identity cards,” Angeline said. Her lifelong wish may soon be a reality. Thanks to direct government interventions, together with advocacy based on the results of the Shona study, the Government of Kenya announced its decision to grant 1,670 stateless Shona community members citizenship on 12th December 2020.
As 2020 marks the sixth anniversary of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign aimed at ending statelessness by 2024, this latest Shona study, in examining the humanitarian and development challenges as well as opportunities, is timely in informing the global push to end statelessness and meet the international community’s twin goals of ending global poverty and leaving no one behind.