Hi, I’m Amy. What’s your name?
This is a simple piece of information isn’t it? I can even tell you my age (34) and where I was born (Sheffield). I know all sorts of information about myself and my family that prove who I am and where I come from. One of the reasons I know these things is because my parents have told me about them, but the thing that actually PROVES these things are our family birth certificates.
The most important document that I think I possess is my birth certificate as it proves my very existence and it is through this aged, slightly growing document that I am able to apply for all sorts of things. The Governments Health and Social Services page states:
A birth certificate is an important personal document, used for:
age, sex or nationality
traveling abroad or applying for a passport
applying for health services, a social insurance number or a driver’s licence
child enrolment in school
settling an estate
receiving old age pension
(Info found at http://www.hss.gov.net.ca/en/services/birth/birthcertificate)
Not only do I have birth certificate but if I lose the one that I have then I can get a replacement issued in no time at all. Earlier this year we went on holiday to France and in our typical last minute manner completely forgot that the children don’t have passports! I can’t lie, we were both a little stressed as we started the process to apply for them with just eight days before our flight departed. To add extra stress to the whole ridiculous situation we discovered after many hours of tearing the house apart, that we had lost our sons birth certificate. This meant that my husband had to get up at 4am one morning to drive down to Glasgow to go and queue to get them passports. However, before he did that he popped around the corner to the office where they issue birth certificates and in a very short time he possessed a brand new birth certificate with which I think he probably skipped (he says he walked but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little skip in there under the circumstances!) back to the passport office. Within less than a week both passports had arrived and we were set to go. At the time this seemed like a complete an utter inconvenience and hassle that we just did not need. However, in reality, this process highlighted the privileged existence we have. Within less than a day we had a new birth certificate and in less than a week we had passports. These are two of the most important and precious documents a person can possess.
I don’t think about my birth certificate from day to day. Its stuffed in a filing cabinet somewhere and when I need to find it my heart stops for a few seconds as I panic about it whereabouts. But for millions of people around the world a birth certificate is not only something that they think about each day, it’s something that they dream about. In countries like the Dominican Republic and Myanmar people are quite literally refused a birth certificate. Many developing countries do not even have the resources to register births and for many people in the developing world the simple fact is that if there is a registration office, they live too far away to be able to get there (by foot) for registration.
In Myanmar as many of us are aware the Rohingya people have been denied citizenship (and therefore birth certificates) for many years, which has meant that they have no access to health care or education and they are unable to vote. Now they are being herded out of their homes like cattle with no rights whatsoever to the property or land. In the Dominican Republic anyone who has Haitian heritage is having their birth identification taken away from them and told that it is no longer valid. These people, some who have lived in the DR all their lives and whose parents may well have lived there all their lives too, are now no longer being considered citizens. They cannot access health care or apply to universities, they cannot even buy a mobile phone without their ID. Amnesty International recently reported on this situation and one girl they interviewed said:
‘Without my identity card, it’s like I’m dead’
(quote taken from Amnesty International)
Can you imagine in this day and age not even being able to buy a mobile telephone? But this is not just about getting a mobile phone. There are so many more very worrying reasons at hand for why every single human deserves a birth certificate.
Plan International has set up a campaign called “Count Every Child” (in 2005) which is entirely focused on getting children around the world registered in their home country and influencing laws to allow birth certificates to be issued. Since 2005 they have registered have helped “register 40 million children and influenced laws in 10 countries so that 153 million more can enjoy the rights to a birth certificate” (quote taken from http://www.plan-international.org). What is so important about the work they are doing is that it helps with the prevention of many human rights crimes being committed. For instance many countries consider sex with a girl under the age of 16 to be rape, yet without a birth certificate to prove the girls age there is no way of prosecuting a case of rape against a minor. In many countries where arranged marriages are common, it is illegal for a girl to marry under the age of 18. However, yet again this is an impossible law to implement if there is no birth certificate to defend the girls rights. Equally, in the case of forced child labour it is impossible to uphold any age laws without a birth certificate. There have also been cases where victims of human trafficking have been unable to return to their country of origin as local law enforcements will not do this unless they have a birth certificate proving nationality and age.
We take our citizenship for granted each day, probably never once even thinking about how incredibly blessed we are.
Rather than just reading this blog though, wouldn’t it be great if you could actually help in some way?! Well heres the thing, you can! Cafod (Catholic Agency For Overseas Development) have set up a gifting system whereby for £25 you can gift a birth certificate to a child, which will transform their lives forever. They will have the right to education, to health care, to vote. Just for £25! So please, please, click on the link below which will take you to the Cafod website where through their World Gifts (for just £28 you can gift a goat as well!) you can give a child the best gift they will ever receive, a gift they are probably dreaming of: the gift of a life.