Legal and Political Questions Around Sky Babies

Legal and Political Questions Around Sky Babies

The stories of ‘sky babies’ or ‘baby born on board’ are numerous. Few days back on 08/04/2017, a baby took birth at 42, 000 feet in Turkish airlines flying from Conakry, Guinea to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

The question that who owns the air space has often triggered legal and political debate. Another area which has raised curiosity is the determination of ‘citizenship’ of a baby born in flight.

Countries have different laws governing the citizenship of babies born on their soil. The question of citizenship will depend upon factors like, citizenship of parents and place of birth etc.  The two distinct principles described in latin maxims are,
jus soli (
right of soil) or jus sanguinis (right of blood). Majority of countries follow jus sanguinis, which means that the baby can citizenship through either of the parents. The United States follows the liberal principle of
jus soli
, which grants automatic citizenship to babies born on their soil.

In India, the Citizenship Act, 1955 bestows citizenship by birth (Section 3) as well as by descent (Section 4). However, Section 3 is not in absolute terms and not everyone born in India gets the Indian citizenship. After Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 only those births will be deemed to grant citizenship where, both the parents are Indian citizens or one of the parents is Indian citizen and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth.

Illustration: An American lady (wedded to American) is travelling from United Kingdom to India via flight registered at United Kingdom. When the flight was in Indian Airspace she gave birth to a baby. Now, the question is which citizenship a new born baby may get - American, British or Indian?

Without any controversy, baby will get an American citizenship by descent. But can he get Indian or British citizenship? As per Indian law answer would be ‘no’ because though deemed to be born in India, either of the parent is not Indian. United Nations regards such baby to be born in a country where the aircraft is registered irrespective of in which country airspace was present at that time. As per UK laws, British citizenship is not automatically conferred to those born in Britain.

Not, only there are complicated legal questions of citizenship involved but, also the problem of ‘birth tourism’. The Chinese government says 10,000 babies were born in the US to Chinese tourist parents in 2012. However, according to 2014 data, 60 thousand Chinese women arrived in the U.S. to give birth. This is because of the liberal US policies in granting citizenship. A Taiwanese woman suspected of giving an ‘anchor birth’ in flight to US was asked to pay hefty sum because flight was diverted to land somewhere else because of her pregnancy.

However, President Donald Trump has vowed to abolish birth tourism citing it as “the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” President Trump in his twitter account in August 2015 pointed out that, “7.5% of all births in the U.S. are to illegal immigrants, over 300,000 babies per year. This must stop. Unaffordable and not right,”

These trends shows that there are difficult legal and political questions around ‘sky babies’ and may offers an interesting insight on the issues like, who owns the sky, questions of identity and nationalism, issues of citizenship. Though we may talk in term of ‘global citizen’, bringing unanimity is difficult. At end, it depends on the political will and ideology to define such limits.