Friday, 21 November 2008

How is Citizenship for Babies Born on Airplanes Decided?

How is the citizenship of babies born mid-flight decided? 

Is it according to: 
  • the parents' citizenship
  • the territory/airspace over which the birth takes place in mid-air
  • the nationality of the airline or where it is registered
  • the destination of the flight
  • the port of departure of the flight

Last week a Swedish pregnant woman, flying by Finnair from Bangkok to Helsinki gave birth to a baby over Kazakhstan.

Photo CreditAneta Blaszczyk


This has happened before on other airlines, but was a first for the Finnish airline. There were even two doctors and two nurses on board, among the passengers. She was in good hands and everything went really well for the mother and the baby.

Does the baby get Swedish citizenship, according to the mother, Kazakhstani citizenship because she arrived over Kazakhstani airspace, Thai citizenship according to the port of departure, Finnish citizenship according to the destination and because the airline was Finnish (mostly state owned airline)?

Two Methods of Deciding Citizenship of Babies

There are basically two systems of deciding citizenship: jus solis or according to birthplace and jus sanguine, according to ethnicity, race, i.e., according to blood factors. Some countries also apply either principle but in a muted manner to suit political and social exigencies. 

India, for instance applies the mixed principle of jus sanguine and jus solis, but adjusts it to mean that children born on Indian soil on or after 3rd December, 2004 is considered citizen of India by birth if both the parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of the child's birth.

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Countries with low birth rates who plan to increase their population bases usually apply the principle of jus solis to integrate everyone who was born in their territory. Sweden, like Finland thus applies the principles of jus solis. But many countries like the USA, Canada, Germany and Ireland have a practice of mixing jus sanguinis and jus soli. The United States grants citizenship to babies born in their airspace, even if the mother happens to be a Mexican citizen as in this case.

What would happen if the baby were born over international territory, above the seas? Would she then be a stateless person or a world citizen?


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Airlines are rather strict about requiring medical certificates for pregnant mothers beyond their 28th week of pregnancy. These are more relaxed for short domestic flights and even for flights within the Nordic countries. These mid-air childbirths are not happening in the hundreds every day. So, authorities deal with them on a case-by-case basis. Further, there is an international agreement called the UNHCR 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Finland ratified this agreement on 7th August 2008 and Sweden in 1969. Kazakhstan has not signed this agreement, so the baby cannot be given Kazakhstani citizenship.

Considering the above, Kazakhstani citizenship is out of the question, unless the parents apply for it and the Kazakhstani government snatches a great PR opportunity and grants it. 


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Finnish citizenship is also possible, especially if the parents are permanently resident in Finland. What is left is the most logical and natural alternative – the baby is a Swedish citizen.


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Let us warmly welcome her to the world and wish her a good and happy life with lots of flying miles and frequent flyer rewards (whatever her citizenship turns out to be).



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