Barristers & Solicitors
Nigerian woman gives birth onboard Turkey-UK flight: Legal issues as to the citizenship status of such babies

By Stanley Alieke, Esq.Some days back, a Nigerian woman by the name, Nweke Ifeoma gave birth to a baby onboard during her flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Manchester, the United Kingdom.

Women giving birth mid-air during flights (although not medically advisable) tend to happen often in recent days. Just last month, BBC news reported that a woman gave birth prematurely on a flight with the help of Staffordshire nurses that happened to be available during the flight.

Incidents like these have raised an interesting legal question; the question of the citizenship or the nationality of a baby that is given birth on board mid-air.

What will be the citizenship status or the nationality of such a miracle “flyover” baby?

Will the baby take the citizenship or nationality of the mother (parents) or will the baby become a citizen of the country that owns the airspace over which the baby was born or will the baby take over the citizenship of the country in which the aircraft was registered?

Any of the above three scenarios will likely be the case depending on the applicable laws of each individual country.

Some countries grant citizenship to flyover babies while others do not grant such citizenship- A flyover baby is a baby born during an air flight.

For example, The United States of America grants citizenship to babies born in its airspace even if the baby was given birth to by foreign parents. So long as the birth takes place in territorial jurisdiction under the control of the US government be it airspace or waters the baby will be granted citizenship of the United States.

This form of citizenship given to babies born within the territorial jurisdiction of a sovereign state, though by foreign parents is referred to as “birthright citizenship” which is also known as Jus soli.

Jus Soli means “son or daughter of the soil” in the layman phrase. It is a common law principle that proposes that a child is a citizen or indigene of the territory he or she is given birth to even if the parents are not citizens or indigenous to that territory.

To this effect, a child that is born within the airspace of a country that has adopted the birthright policy is a citizen of that country. This is not just restricted to airspace, by extension, a child born in international waters belonging to such a country is automatically a citizen of that country.

Presently, there are 33 countries of the world that offer unrestricted birthright citizenship and in essence, any baby born within the airspace or submarine of any of these 33 countries is automatically a citizen of such country.

These countries include the following: The United States, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Bolivia, Chad, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Lesotho, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitt and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uruguay and lastly, Venezuela.

Conversely, babies born in British airspace are not granted United Kingdom citizenship unless the parents of that baby are British citizens.

Also, a baby that is born during an air trip is basically deemed to acquire the citizenship of the parents. This form of citizenship is called Jus Sanguinis.

Most (if not all) countries of the world also do have a “jus sanguinis” principle of citizenship that grants babies the same citizenship as that of their parents. Nigeria is an example of such countries; a baby that is given birth to amid air by Nigerian parents over airspace belonging to another sovereign state is eligible to be granted Nigerian citizenship.

This form of citizenship called jus sanguinis is basically the right of a child to their parent’s nationality.

Finally, a baby born amidst air may take up the citizenship of the country in which the aircraft is registered. For instance, if a baby is born to Nigerian parents in Royal Air Maroc which is an Aircraft registered in Casablanca, Morocco the baby may take up Moroccan citizenship.

In as much as it is not ideal or medically advisable for a baby to be given birth amidst air or in air transit due to limited access to medical equipment or probably, the unavailability of health workers to assist in the delivery process, babies are God’s gifts and they can decide to grace the earth or space whenever the giver of the gift so pleases.

Stanley Alieke is a legal practitioner based in