Evelyn Sepp: wanting to be a good citizen!

This time the story will come first and the foreword will follow. This is a concrete story of a concrete person, which at times illustrates a painful circle of issues without hope – one should analyse calmly first, and perhaps make some political conclusions.

The story happened recently and had a sad outcome. At least for one young person, who as of to date is 14 years of age, who was not born in Estonia, lives in Estonia, gone and still goes to school in Estonia and speaks fluent Estonian, but whose parents are not citizens of Estonia. This young person is a good athlete and has met all qualification criteria to represent the homeland – Estonia – at the international championship. However…

Not able to do so. Because - and this is a tricky question before the point to this story – how many of the readers of this story have realized that the children under the age of 15 receive citizenship as part of naturalisation only in case one of the parents applying for it, receives it!?

I am drawing your attention to the fact that this is not about filling correctly the citizenship application form in order to apply for Estonian citizenship for a child without a citizenship. The citizenship must first be granted to a parent as part of naturalisation process.

The parent must have lived in Estonia for at least 5 years, passed all necessary exams, and so on.

And should it happen that a parent does not know how long is the longest river of Estonia and which highland is the highest, then neither a parent nor a child she/he will be granted citizenship.

Therefore, getting the state protection – citizenship – does not depend on the child, the place of birth, life lived and not even on whether it is person’s wish to be defined in the Republic of Estonia. It all depends on child’s parent ability to pass exams to get Estonian citizenship…

As a result, dead-end situation occurs. The biggest problem is for children with parents of so- to-say slightly asocial nature, with no place of residence, documents, profession and understanding of how to fill
these forms in. Unfortunately, there are always people like that and in every society, and I feel sorry for those children. But at least in the Riigikogu, there are still “over-the rainbow” speeches, which say that you cannot protect the child surpassing the parent. Even in the situations, which are rather hopeless…

However, there are also other cases, like the one this story is about. No one is to blame directly and no one has done wrong or left anything
undone. But this young athlete did not get to compete at the Helsinki Juniors Championship regardless of the fact that, in terms of sport, has earned this opportunity many times over and met all criteria qualifying to represent Republic of Estonia.

The federation has prepared all additional documents, which explained the absurdity of the situation and also other status-related issues; but it turned out that respective international organisation reviews issues of such kind only once or twice a year. And considering the qualifying time for the championship, this young person could not have submitted the documents earlier.

True, the story had another circumstance. The international swimming federation FINA does not have sufficiently flexible system to resolve such cases. But, we will leave it at that.

The specific problem, however, is that in sports, the citizenship is
prerequisite for representing the country on the international arena. By
Estonian law, no differentiation is made between people without citizenship, or athlete under the age of 18, which is reasonable; but FINA, in turn, is unaware of so-called “person without citizenship” status.

So, the dead end…

In case of adults, such status (“without itizenship”) has different background and reasons. And ciizenship requirement is justified. Particularly, in the situations, where the athlete is “bought” into a team; with children the story is completely different.

And now to the main rhetorical question – what is the gain for the Republic of Estonia in organising matters this way?! Or how could Estonian security and statehood threatened if children like that receive their citizenship at birth?

In my opinion, it would not. I have defended this idea in the Riigikogu for many years, but so far, many a minister, not to mention majority of the colleagues at the Parliament, have sincerely believed that the issue of child’s citizenship is only resolved by parents submitting application.

As this practical example shows, things do not always go that way. The child is not granted citizenship based on expressed will and submitted application, but only if a parent has become Estonian citizen.

What makes the story bizarre, in perms of sports, is that if it were a case of adult athlete being “bought-in”, who often changes citizenship for mercantile reasons, and new citizenship is granted based on merit and service to the country, this athlete must be a citizen of a country for one year in order to represent his/her new “homeland” at the hampionship.

A child with no citizenship, for some reason, can, despite
achievements, represent his/her homeland only if his/her parents have lived in Estonia for at least 5 years, have applied and have been granted citizenship. This is the case with

I say, it is a bit senseless.

In any case, I intend to explain this situation to the FINA officials. Perhaps, a slight amendment to the regulations, would help organisers of international children and youth competitions, to behave in a more just and flexible manner. Perhaps, there are other children in similar situations.

Of course, the primary place for solving this issue is Estonia. It is high time to grant citizenship automatically to children born here and born to parents without citizenship. This would be humane, reduce administrative burden and save costs, and reasonable from the point of protecting child’ rights. And to give up citizenship and also choose citizenship to avoid double citizenship situation would be the age of 18, even as it is today.

No one looses in this case and the winning part is that child’s rights are protected in any case, which is the focal point of the Convention on Protection of Rights of Children. By the way, Estonia has received criticism for years for not adhering to this convention.

What is most regrettable in this particular case is that a deciding factor in sports is something which is outside sports and not sports-related.

In conclusion, the main character of this story will recover from the setback, become much stronger as an athlete and as a person; although it is not easy.

Just a question for Estonia – considering the human resource and the local situation, can we afford “human experiments”? And we can, is it necessary and reasonable?