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The invisible children of Chiang Rai

Posted by Georgie Gayler, Social Media Editor at Plan International

Georgie Gayler, Social Media Editor at Plan InternationalOne thing that I have never worried about in my life is my identity. I travelled from a very young age on my own passport, and as soon as I turned 17 I had my driving license. I have always been in the system. I could walk into a hospital, or doctors surgery, or police station and I will be found within seconds, and prove of my identity and nationality is clear to see. As I watched Warumee, a 17 year old stateless girl, silently crying, I suddenly realised how something that has never been as problem for me can have such a serious impact on people’s lives.

The invisible population

I was in Chiang Rai visiting Plan projects, and some young stateless people.  What struck me was how segregated these young people feel from their friends and family. Instead of a blue Thai citizenship card, they have a pink card which clearly states ‘Illegal’ at the top. Without an ID card in Thailand there is limited and costly access to healthcare, to education, they cannot find jobs, cannot travel from their communities and they have no way of opening their own bank accounts. They are not in any systems, they are not recognised. They are invisible.

This has a particular impact on young girls, who may not know about Plan, and the possibility of DNA testing and support from the local Plan law Clinic which guides families through the process. Trafficking is a real issue amongst the hill tribes, where people come into communities and promise girls a better life. In reality they are sold, abused and can often end up in the sex trade in tourist destinations across south-east Asia. The families and communities do not know any better.

Holes in a complex systemWarumee awaits her Thai Citizenship ID card

Plan programme staff find these young stateless people by visiting communities and knocking on every door in the community  to find out if all the children in the family have birth certificates. Unfortunately though, sometimes even a birth certificate is not enough. Warumee fell through a hole in the system. Her Mother re-married and changed names, so when it came to collecting her ID card her name did not match her birth certificate and she was determined as illegal. Through one of Plan’s projects, she was able to get a DNA test in June 2011 to prove her relation to her Mother, and start the lengthy, document filled process to obtain citizenship. But despite the Thai Government’s guidelines stating the ID card will arrive within 90 days, nearly 1 year on she is still waiting, and likely to be waiting another 6 months. What I found especially shocking is that without Plan’s help, the process could have taken up to 6 years.

It’s a very complex system, where loopholes, outcomes and opportunities differ according to personal circumstance. I struggled to understand it myself, so it is no wonder that the hill tribes of Chiang Rai do not understand it. Families are lacking in education and often in the case of the Mothers, cannot read or write making the process impossible.

Dreaming about the future

Luckily for Warumee, her student card enabled her to enrol at her college and study a vocational course in Hotel Management. She now lives in Chiang Rai with 3 friends in a house that they rent.  Her dream is to learn English and one day become a Hotel Receptionist so she can work and speak to people from around the world. When she talks about the day she gets her ID card her eyes light up, she will be able to work, and pursue her dreams of future education. But if she had not been found by Plan staff, and had the subsidised cost DNA test she would have faced a very different future.

Jun 26, 2012 11:00 AM