Mobile Civil Registration Units in Schools
A significant step towards ending childhood statelessness in Thailand
No one wants to be stateless - with no nationality and no legal identity. Having a nationality is a right enshrined and guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Yet, close to 300,000 children in Thailand have no other choice. They live in fear, with their fundamental rights and future dreams diminished.
“I've never had any kind of ID cards. I've never had a chance to participate in any activity that required a participant to fill his or her ID number in an application form. And, whenever I have to travel, I'm always afraid I'll get arrested,” Namfon (not her real name), a 14-year old girl said worriedly. Her parents were migrant workers in Chai Prakan district, Chiang Mai province. The girl has never had any proof of her existence in Thailand's civil registration system.
Today, Namfon came to Ban Ton Chok school in Chai Prakan town in order to register her request for a 'Person with No Registration Status' ID card. The opportunity was arranged by the Mobile Civil Registration Unit Project, which was conducted by UNICEF in partnership with Terre Des Hommes Germany and the Stateless Children Protection Network, and with the support of the European Union. The goal was to facilitate attaining legal status and Thai citizenship for around 32,000 stateless children in Thailand's northern border areas.
According to the project's plan, the Mobile Civil Registration volunteer team will, from September 2021 into May 2022, move to targeted schools in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces and set up desks for stateless children in the areas to register their requests. The volunteers will be there to give advice and help the children prepare necessary documents. The project targets two groups of children: the G-status children in schools and the ethnic stateless children.
The term 'G-status children' refers to children who have no birth record of any form but have been registered by their schools and given student numbers beginning with G (Generate). However, these G-ID numbers which prove the existence of the children in educational system have no bearing in the Thai civil registration system. In other words, despite a school's recognition, these children do not legally exist. Their right to education is ensured, yet accessing other rights including the right to healthcare and freedom of movement are still not addressed. When required to travel outside of the designated educational zone, they need to obtain a permission from the responsible district office.
The term ‘ethnic stateless children' refers to those who have proofs of their births in Thailand and have already had names registered in Thai civil registration system. Although these children obtain 13-digit ID numbers, they have not been recognized as Thai citizens. The volunteers will give advices to them and their families about how to apply for Thai citizenship and help them compiling necessary documents.
After all paper work is done, the Mobile Civil Registration volunteers and school representatives will deliver applications together with attached documents to responsible district officers for their consideration and processing. The project's task reduces both teachers and district officers' workload and aims to speed up the process of attaining better legal status.
Thailand is among the countries with the highest number of stateless persons. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were over 539,000 stateless persons in Thailand in 2020. Forty percent or 297,000 were children.
“A stateless child faces all kinds of restrictions in life. They have limited opportunities for education, healthcare and decent work. Their freedom of movement is very limited and all fundamental rights are diminished. Stateless children are vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse, exploitation and discrimination. All this affects their learning ability, growth and prospects for the future,” Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, UNICEF Thailand's child protection officer said.
Parinya further explained that Thailand's policy and laws addressing statelessness problem were sufficiently progressive, clear and inclusive. However, despite the efforts of government and non-governmental agencies, civil society, international organizations and academic sectors, the problem has not yet been eradicated.
According to a study released in April 2021 titled 'Invisible Lives : 48 Years of the Situation of Stateless Children in Thailand (1972-2020)', the major challenge in advancing the status of stateless children in Thailand lays on local procedures. This includes the lack of staff, funds, unnecessary complex procedures, and negative attitudes towards stateless persons and children. Stateless persons' lack of knowledge of birth registration and legal status attainment process, coupled with their fear of Thai authorities, also contributed to the problem.
The mobile civil registration units traveling to schools aim to alleviate some of the practical challenges which face both the practitioners and the stateless families themselves.
In the afternoon, while waiting in queue along with other children, Namfon wrote down her dream on a piece of paper, “Now I am in Mattayom 2 (the 8th Grade). I wish I can continue studying until I get a bachelor degree. My future dream is to become an actress, a professional dancer, a medical doctor or a business owner. I wish to have a career that allows me to earn enough to help my family live a better life and makes me happy. I have many dreams and I will make them come true.”
Namfon's mother who came along stated happily, “I'm so glad that my daughter is going to get an ID card (for person with no registration status) just like the others. I've always been so worried about her because she is a girl. I'm afraid that anything bad will happen or she might get lured into something bad, or she might one day get arrested. She is a good student. I will do my best to support her get the highest education possible.”
Currently, Thailand has up to 80,000 G-status stateless children in schools. Around 30,000 of them are in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces.
With the support of UNICEF and the EU, District Offices, schools, related agencies and civil society organizations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work together to accelerate stateless children's progress towards civil registration and attaining legal status.
Jirachart Suetrakul, the Chai Prakan district chief who chaired the MOU signing ceremony at Chai Prakan district office said, “Solving legal status problem has been very slow due to a lack of coordination. Each agency was overloaded with various tasks and there was insufficient manpower. The newly signed MOU will have great benefits for stateless children. Once everyone commits to work for the same goal, they shall no longer be stateless.”
Santiphong Moonfong, the director of the Development Center for Children and Community Network (DCCN) and the coordinator of the Mobile Civil Registration Unit Project explained that the coordination and collaboration between teachers, district officers and civil society organizations will help stateless children gain access to their fundamental rights faster than before. He says that the involvement of teachers in the process builds trust. “This coordination accelerates the process for the benefit of children. They will get better protection and better access to their fundamental rights. The Thai government will also find that this way they can better address educational, public health and national security concerns” Santipong said.
Seeing how drop-out students headed back to school, Suk Jansao, Ban Ton Chok school director and the chairperson of the Chai Prakan Teacher's Assoication said with a smile: “With the 13-digit ID number, children pay more attention to education. Today there are some who have already asked to return to school. We are definitely ready to welcome them back to learn and gain more knowledge.”
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