No Identity…no right…A worthwhile Struggle
By Ansar Rasheed and Kate Rose
YEMEN,17 March, 2014-Without any proof of age, name or identity, sisters Amera and Halima faced a difficult future. Their older sisters had managed to study at school until Grades 7 and 9, but the two younger siblings, aged just 6 and 7, were not allowed to even enrol.
The four sisters share their two-roomed house with their brother, parents and grandmother. Their father works as a rubbish collector, earning 30,000 riyals a month (about $150) which is barely enough to live on after half of it has paid the rent.
Aisha with her family, now her two younger daughters can go to school like their sisters. © UNICEF/Yemen-2014/Rasheed
Two years ago, like many people in their neighbourhood, the family was really struggling to put food on the table, so their father pulled the older girls out of school. "I felt devastated” says their mother Aisha, “I used to cry every single night that my daughters, who were dreaming of going to college and getting a good job, were not in school.”
In Yemen, nearly two thirds of females are illiterate and in Aisha’s neighbourhood, the school dropout rate is high, especially for girls. “I took the decision to stop that by finding a job to make sure they could continue going to school” she says. In fact, Aisha took two jobs, working as a cleaner in the morning and as a maid in the evening, while her mother helped out by looking after the five children in the meantime.
Because of their parents’ hard work, the two older girls were able to go back to school, but it was a different story for Amera and Halima. The school principal rejected the young girls because they couldn’t show him a birth certificate to prove their age or identity.
The time and effort needed to register a birth in Yemen is often a factor as to why a staggering four out of every five children under the age of 5 years do not have one. When children are not registered, it is as if they are invisible to society. They cannot claim their right to identity, to a nationality, or even to fundamental services like health care or education.
The two girls had to miss a whole year of school because they lacked the right documentation, but when a chance came, Aisha seized it. UNICEF, The Civil Registration Authority (CRA) and the Social Services Centre ran a campaign in their neighbourhood, encouraging unregistered children to get their birth certificates. “They saved me time and effort and were totally free!” says Aisha. “Now when I go to sleep I feel so happy and 0satisfied that my daily struggle is really worth it, not only to feed my children, but also to keep them in school.”
Aisha has inspired many parents in her area. “I talk to my neighbours about the importance of education for every child. Poverty or lack of a birth certificate should not be a barrier. We can find a solution, alternative support, if we just make a little effort!”
The lack of a clear, consistent and unified definition of the child in Yemen with a birth registration coverage of only 17% of children under the age of five years significantly increases vulnerability in a complex context such as Yemen. This has implications not just for girls education, but child trafficking, child recruitment and use, child marriage and juvenile death penalty amongst others.
UNICEF is supported by MYOUCHI KAI through the Japan National Committee to scale up birth registration in Yemen, aiming to increase the number of children whose births are registered, by 30 per cent in target areas by 2015.