LONDON, April 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – European nations have been urged to protect the rights of transgender people, abolish medical procedures needed to change legal gender and make transgender-specific healthcare accessible under a pan-European resolution adopted late on Wednesday.

The Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog, also called on its 47 member states to adopt transgender inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation and introduce a third gender option in identity documents for people who do not identify as male or female.

Amnesty International estimates up to 1.5 million people across Europe are transgender, a term that describes those who identify as a different gender from the one they were born with.

Human rights organisation Transgender Europe (TGEU) hailed the resolution as the most important and wide-ranging statement of support for transgender rights ever made in Europe.

“We are thrilled about this comprehensive set of recommendations as it sends a clear message to trans people that they are born equal in rights,” said Richard Köhler, TGEU senior policy officer.

Transgender people in Europe face widespread discrimination when seeking work, housing and medical care, and are victims of bullying, physical and psychological violence and hate crimes, the watchdog said in the summary of its resolution.

Most countries in Europe require transgender people to undergo genital removal surgery and sterilisation, be diagnosed with a mental disorder and get divorced if married in order to have their desired gender legally recognised by the government.

While many European countries are becoming more accepting of transgender people, there is still a long way to go before they are granted equal legal rights, campaigners say.

Malta last month became only the second European nation, after Denmark, to allow transgender people to change their legal gender without any medical or state intervention.

While the Danish law set a minimum age of 18, Malta’s law allows parents or legal guardians of a person under the age of 18 to apply in court on their behalf to change legal gender.

Nepal, India and Bangladesh are among a handful of countries that allow people who do not want to identify as male or female to be recognised as a third gender in official documents.

In 2013, Germany became the first European country to legally recognise indeterminate sex by allowing babies born with no clear gender-determining anatomy, known as intersex, to be registered at birth without a “male” or “female” classification.

Yet the interior ministry said at the time that the change did not amount to the creation of a third gender because the box stipulating male or female is left blank.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce