|© UNICEF video|
|Children are often prevented from higher education because of their lack of a birth certificate and legal documentation.|
By Eva Gilliam
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, 2 June 2009 – It’s Tuesday morning and the children of the heavily populated neighbourhood of Abobo are warming up for a day of study.
Once they pass fifth grade, they will have to present their Birth Registration papers. This means that at least half of them will not be able to present the state exams and continue their schooling. These statistics get worse in the North and Northwest of the country, where UNICEF estimates that up to six children out of ten are unregistered.
“They told me to come with my papers,” says 15-year-old Victoirine Coulibaly, “but I didn’t have them. They told me to bring it the next day, otherwise I wouldn’t pass the exams.”
Brief window for registration
UNICEF Côte d'Ivoire Representative Maarit Hirvonen explains that the administrative process only becomes complicated if the child is not registered within the first three months after he or she is born.
“Normally, it’s the father who would do that,” says Ms. Hirvonen. “Mothers are waiting for the father to do it, and many times they just don’t get it done. Then it means you have to go to the courts, and that is when it becomes an expensive and difficult exercise.”
However, even if a parent had the time and money it would cost for the registration, many cannot travel the distance required to complete the formalities in the birth place of the child.
Adama Coulibay, the caretaker of his nephew, describes some of the difficulties he would encounter: “I would have to go all the way there, to the tribunal in Kogoro. 600 kilometers from Abidjan just to make the request at the judge, who will then give me an appointment, requiring the presence of the two parents, plus the child.”
Sliding under the radar
Children forced from school because of their lack of status often wind up working as labourers, mechanics or seamstresses. Yet many children left to their own devises slip off the grid and slide under the radar.
With elections scheduled for later this year, there is already attention towards the administrative status of adults. UNICEF has developed a plan that would work on a strategic national level to register millions of children.
“We would start with 150,000 children,” says Ms. Hirvonen, “working with government and our partners, and we will try to improve the civil registry system, and also strengthen the system at the community level, so it’s more accessible to the population.”
In the meantime, UNICEF is preparing to unroll their new plan and give an identity to the future of Côte d'Ivoire – one child at a time.