A birth certificate is a core document required for citizenship documentation in Myanmar. Without one, Rohingya children face an uncertain future.
50-year-old Begom is a Rohingya midwife at a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. She has lived there since 2012 when intercommunal clashes forced her family along with thousands of others to flee from home. Since then, over 130,000 Rohingya like her remain displaced.
Despite not receiving any formal training, Begom takes her role seriously and has successfully helped deliver over 500 children in the camp, including twins.
“Most pregnant women rely on me for help because it is difficult for them to get medical assistance outside,” she explained.
Access to local hospitals is dependent on a cumbersome referral process which requires approvals from local administrators. Additional barriers including the need for male aides, curfews, high medical costs, and security checkpoints leave pregnant women little choice but to give birth inside camps. Discriminatory policies have, for decades, denied the Rohingya basic rights including citizenship, freedom of movement and equal access to healthcare.
Rohingya births are typically unregistered. In Myanmar, only nurses or mid-wives assigned by the State are allowed to record births in the official register, the first step towards obtaining birth certificates. Following the intercommunal clashes of 2012, many Rohingya communities had to move into displacement camps with no access to state-assigned nurses and midwives. As a result, new births were effectively excluded from the official register. Consequently, none of the children Begom helped deliver were eligible for birth certificates, a constant worry for her.
“No one can grow up to be successful without one,” she said.
Birth certificates are one of several core documents required for a person in Myanmar to apply for citizenship documentation. Without this proof of legal identity, Rohingya children face an uncertain future. Many could miss out on their rights being protected and upheld.
As they grow up, the children will be unable to acquire other important identity documents such as national registration cards, leaving them legally and administratively invisible. They will be unable to obtain higher education as well as enter the formal job market. With limited opportunities available, prospects for upward socioeconomic mobility are poor and trap the Rohingya in a cycle of poverty.
Determined to help as best she can, Begom diligently records the date of birth of every child she brings to life. Her efforts are one of many resourceful strategies adopted by Rohingya communities to cope with administrative barriers and discrimination. While unofficial, such records are oftentimes helpful for camp-based community services offered by humanitarian organizations.
“My wish is for these records to help children obtain identity documents one day,” she said.
With a mandate to reduce and prevent statelessness, UNHCR regularly communicates with the Rohingya communities to understand their conditions of life and the challenges they face, and advocates for solutions for the Rohingya and other stateless people in Myanmar.
Obtaining first-hand information from individuals like Begom enables UNHCR to craft strategies that aim to provide a clear pathway for them to access birth registration and other identity documents. This is as birth registration is often the first step required to prevent statelessness by granting a child a legal identity upon entering the world.