While many are on the level of advocating for the recognition of stateless persons, only a few are looking at the micro and addressing one of the root causes of the problem – unregistered births.
I facilitated an issue mapping workshop among civil society organizations (CSOs) in Cagayan de Oro City when the issue of birth certificates came up. Apparently, a significant number of children in the city have no birth certificates. I was surprised because I thought the issue was only common among the Badjaos in Tawi-tawi because of being sea nomads. But more shocked were the participants who initially thought that the problem was not a major concern but learned among themselves that it is prevalent not only among the urban poor but also the rural poor particularly among the indigenous people. And the participants were further shocked to learn that the lack of birth certificates not only has short-term impacts but also long term even affecting the dignity of the children as a human being.
In the short term, lacking a birth certificate can lead to the denial of access to social services particularly in health and education. In some local government units particularly those highly politicized ones, a requirement to avail of these services is an identification card which, unfortunately, is sometimes issued based on a birth certificate. So, ever wondered why we failed to achieve our commitments in the millennium development goals and may find it more difficult to attain the sustainable development goals? That is one of the culprits.
Another is in the field of education where enrolling in kindergarten or moreso in Grade 1 requires a birth certificate. Because there are teachers who are differently mannered, they would ask their pupils again and again to remind their parents about their birth certificates. Those who can’t produce would just drop out from class and those who can survive would be able to reach Grade 6 but could not get their diplomas because they lack that single requirement – birth certificate. While we pound on poverty as one of the major causes of a higher dropout rate, has anyone ever considered the lack of birth certificate as a cause?
The bigger problem is the impact of the prodding of the differently-mannered teachers to the children. Psychologists say that this may sometimes lead to low self-esteem if not getting bullied by their classmates. And the effect is long-term as in the end, children subjected to the negative treatment of teachers and their classmates could develop an emotional and psychological disturbance that could have disastrous consequences to themselves and those they may deal with in the future.
Lastly, children whose births have not been registered may lead to complications particularly administrative obstacles that can lead to statelessness. Fortunately, the Philippine government is not that strict in terms of identifying its citizens. Anyone who looks like Filipino can claim to be a Filipino citizen and there will be no more questions. But that limits him/her to cross borders for the lack of documents such as passports which also requires a birth certificate. In some countries, if one does not have papers to prove that he/she is a citizen of that place, the possibility of him/her being deported is very high.
Realizing these, the participants to the workshop decided that one of their plans is to create a program that will encourage and assist the parents to have the births of their children registered. But while this is a welcome move, this also requires the cooperation of government particularly at the local level. In Bongao, Tawi-tawi, then Mayor Jasper S. Que organized a registration drive for the Badjaos. Hopefully, this will be replicated in other areas as well not just for the indigenous people but also for all the affected children and even adult population in general.