Legal Law

Invisible, Ignored and Vulnerable

Lin sighed and shook her head. No, none of her four children, Tivin, 7, Tivan, 6, Jivi, 4, or the baby, Siva, a year and a half, were registered. And she couldn’t do the paperwork because she had lost her identity card.

Without that essential role, the people of Cambodia have no rights. They cannot go to school, get state medical aid, vote, rent an apartment, open a bank account, or obtain a passport.

They are under the radar screen and do not count. As far as the government is concerned, they don’t exist, except to be cornered and abandoned in the country from time to time.

Twenty-nine-year-old Lin and her children (her husband, Tran, has died) live under a tree on 108th Street in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. There they make a living from the money tourists give Lin for the baby. The older children scavenge what they can from the garbage and from the market stalls in the area.

Without being registered, the children are far behind the eight ball.

Statistics on being invisible

While 95.6 per cent of babies in England and Wales are registered, the number drops to 10 per cent in Bangladesh and plummets to three per cent in Somalia and Liberia.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child declared that birth registration is a fundamental right. Governments need to know how many births and deaths there are each year, but in the developing world it is still a problem.

Why don’t parents register their children? The reasons vary, but many times it is due to ignorance or not having access to resources. Consequently, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be one of the 20 million who are not registered. In Southeast Asia, the number is estimated at 24 million. If these areas are combined, one in three children is not registered.

Unregistered children come from situations of poverty and may end up being trafficked or forced into manual labor and paid very little. Children of 10 or 11 years end up working as servants to have enough to eat.

What can be done

The first step is that governments have to change the policy to register all children under the law. While this is a starting point, it should be followed up with action. The child registration process should be as simple as possible.

Officials must go to rural areas, particularly in Africa and Asia, both to register children and to educate their parents about the importance of having a birth certificate.

Half-hearted attempts have proven futile and the problem of no registration continues to grow. Everyone needs to get involved to address the problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *