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Plan tackles statelessness with DNA tests

Stateless children face many uncertainties as they grow up.

February 2012: Life was very difficult for 17-year-old Joe until he received his Thai citizenship and identification card.

“I couldn’t go to places I wanted to go, though the rest of my family could. Police always stopped me from leaving my village since I didn’t have anything to prove I was Thai,” he said.

Joe was born to a couple from the ethnic Akha hill tribe in the northern mountainous province of Chiang Rai. At the time of his birth both his parents were still waiting to be confirmed as Thai citizens following a government census conducted in their village 4 years previously.

As a result, when his parents were officially recognised as Thai citizens years later in 2002, Joe still didn't exist on government records and was rendered “stateless” in his own country of birth.

One of many

Joe’s is one of 52,000 people in Chiang Rai who have been left stateless by inadequate registration procedures for birth and citizenship. Living in Chiang Rai compounds the disadvantages already faced by thousands of stateless people as they regularly endure interrogation at police checkpoints and have to prove their valid status.

Already poor, Joe’s parents had to pay for his education while other children confirmed as citizens got it for free. As a result Joe had to work after school as a construction worker to supplement his family’s income, making his story typical of the 1,000,000 or so stateless people in Thailand.

“My friends always mocked me for not being Thai as I didn’t have a Thai ID card. I was so furious with those insults, but what they said was true,” he added.

DNA delights

However, Joe finally has a reason to smile as he has recently been granted Thai citizenship following a successful DNA test that established his link to his parents. This was made possible as part of an initiative by Plan Thailand.

Plan, in partnership with local NGOs, is funding families and children in Chiang Rai to participate in a state-sponsored DNA testing project. The project aims to prove genetic ties between parents, who were given Thai citizenship after their children were born, and their children, who weren’t registered at birth.

“Identity is children’s first right,” said Plan Thailand Country Director Maja Cubarrubia.

“We are very proud to be connecting people who are in dire need of assistance to existing services provided by the government and other civil society organisations.”

Joe is one of 400 people Plan has subsidised in the DNA project over the past 2 years. Plan will support another 600 over the next 3 years.