Contributor: Reuben Lim (IOM Thailand) - Editor: Hajer Naili (IOM Washington)
In a clean, brightly lit postnatal ward, tiny Thein Thein Win wails as her parents comfort her. Thein Thein Win is born on a Thursday. In Myanmar, where Thein Thein Win’s family is from, the day of birth has a cultural significance and determines many aspects of a person’s life such as their horoscope and astrological sign and even dictates the direction of worship at a pagoda.
In the Myanmar language, Thein Thein Win means “hundreds of thousands,” an auspicious name that her parents hope will provide her with a bright future.
Ten years ago, Thein Thein Win’s parents moved to Thailand after having difficulties finding a job in their home country. Both have been working in a farm in order to provide for their six children.
Thein Thein Win is their first child born at the Legal Clinic of Mae Sot General Hospital in the Tak province. Unlike several thousands of children born to migrant parents, Thein Thein Win is lucky because she was provided with identification documents as soon as she was born.
In Thailand, statelessness continues to be an issue of concern for thousands of children. No official figure exists but estimates from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) suggest that about 40,000 births in the country go unregistered each year. Most of these children are born to migrant parents from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR, many of whom do not possess proper documentation.
Despite efforts by the Royal Thai Government to grant all children born in the country, regardless of status, the right to birth registration, only a third of all migrant children born are believed to possess birth certificates. For those who remain without an identity document, the lack of legal status renders them stateless. As a result, they are prevented from accessing basic services such as education, healthcare and social protection which has severe implications on their well-being and development.
In an effort to reduce the number of stateless children born in Thailand, the U.N. Migration Agency, IOM, has partnered with Mae Sot General Hospital to set up a unit, called the Legal Clinic, to assist migrants with birth registration. The Legal Clinic, set up in April 2016, ensures that all migrant children born on the hospital’s premises are registered and provided with birth certificates.
Each year, an average of 3,000 babies are born at Mae Sot General Hospital. Due to its proximity to the main border crossing with Myanmar, nearly 40 percent of all births are from migrant mothers.
While Thein Thein Win rests with her mother, the Legal Clinic staff comes to take her identity photograph, the fingerprints of her parents and note down their particulars. Within a few hours, Thein Thein Win will receive a birth certificate issued by the local municipal office. The identity document lists a 13-digit registration number indicating that Thein Thein Win has been officially recorded into the civil register database.
The establishment of the Legal Clinic has been life-changing for thousands of migrant families. Registering the birth of a migrant child can be a long and laborious process involving several administrative procedures and governmental agencies. Additionally, the language barrier and the lack of awareness on the importance of birth registration can discourage many migrant parents. Here, at the Legal Clinic, a migrant newborn is given an identity within a few hours.
The Legal Clinic aims to be a one-stop birth registration service. Its staff is trained to complete the entire process in one day and educates families about the importance of birth registration.
Last year, the official birth registration rate at the Mae Sot General hospital stood at 95 percent and has risen to 97 percent in the first six months of 2017. Efforts are underway to reach a 100 percent rate of registration.
Thein Thein Win’s father is relieved that his wife gave birth at the Legal Clinic. “I’m glad my wife does not need go through the process by herself. I’m very happy,” said Kyaw Win. “We don’t know much but we know that the birth certificate is an important document that must be taken care of,” he added.