Hundreds of children, some as young as ten, who have spent most of their lives or were even born in the UK are having their British citizenship applications refused over crimes that are penalised with a fine or a caution, such as petty theft. Campaigners estimate that as many as one child per week over the last five years has been denied citizenship for failing the good character requirement. This has prompted MPs and campaigners to call upon the government to scrap the ‘good character’ test requirement in citizenship applications by children.
The Runnymede Trust and the Project for Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) have highlighted the dangerous effects of young children being refused citizenship of their home country over minor crimes. The Trust states that the effect is likely to curb rehabilitation and potentially increase children’s involvement in the criminal justice system. It argues that rejecting a child from their home country in this way influences to a great extent whether that child chooses a life of more crime or not.
According to Solange Valedez-Symonds, director of the PRCBC, the 2006 Immigration Act has severely impacted on the intentions of the 1981 British Nationality Act, by no longer protecting children who have a close connection to the UK.
The 2006 Immigration Act has given rise to many political opinions over the current citizenship application process for children. This is due to as many as 400 children being denied citizenship because of the ‘good character’ test, creating the overriding belief that it should be scrapped. In particular, the Labour MP David Lammy has stated that “the good character requirement targeted children of ethnic minorities and children in care” which in turn is “dragging more innocent people into uncertainty and despair”. He believes the policy should instead be helping those “who are already drowning in a sea of governmental incompetence”.
In addition, the Scottish National party MP, Stuart McDonald, has stated that the requirement for British citizenship should be based “on the strength of their connection with this country and because it is their home, and that should be the end of the matter”.
The Home Office, however, have sought to justify the current policy on the grounds that the good character requirement is only in place for children aged 10 and over as “this is the age of criminal responsibility”.
Home Office have also stated that a “revised guidance for the good character requirement would be published soon”, and we look forward to seeing how campaigners will assess the updated policy.
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