In Kuwait, citizenship is passed down by bloodline. With Kuwaits new DNA law, which is expected to go into effect this year, we might see an unprecedented mission of citizenship enforcement based on genetics. Thousands may be stripped of their nationalities.
In Kuwait only one third of the population are citizens. Only families that have been there since 1920 are citizen and – with a few exceptions – citizenship is passed down through fathers’ bloodlines. Kuwaiti citizenship is valuable, since it comes with a long list of social benefits, including free education through college, free healthcare, grocery subsidies, unemployment benefits, and monthly government checks per child.
The Bidoon, a minority of stateless descendants of nomadic Arab tribes are considered illegal residents in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government is even involved in a controversial plan to move the stateless Bidoon community to the Comoro Islands. Some Bidoons have acquired citizenship, for example by Kuwaiti men claiming Bidoon children as their own in exchange for money.
But with the new DNA database, the government might restrict access to citizenship based on verifiable bloodlines. First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khalid was quoted saying the government will use the DNA database “to aid in the verification of Kuwaiti citizens.” Those who obtained citizenship by trickery would be punished and loose the benefits that come with citizenship. Furthermore, those who refuse DNA testing could be filed with criminal charges and have their citizenship withdrawn. The law might also expose extramarital children, which is considered a crime that is severely punished in Kuwait.
The law might also backfire. What if DNA testing reveals that people the government wants to be Kuwaiti are actually not Kuwaiti? What if improprieties within the ruling families are exposed? What if Bidoons are more closely related to „official“ Kuwaitis than anticipated?
It is not clear yet, whether or not the new DNA law will be used to determine citizenship or if it is more of a scare tactic. Dr Debra Mathews, Assistant Director for Science Programs at the Breman Insitute of Bioethics at John Hopkins University, even questions that DNA tests can definitively tell whether or not somebody is a member of an ethic group.