Majority of Yemeni minors lack birth certificates
For parents, the first time most are asked to produce a birth certificate for their children is when they register them for school. Registration for first grade begins in Yemen at age six.
Abdulnasser Al-Jaberi, 45, is a mechanic and owns a car shop. He is also the father of seven, and says he gets birth certificates for his children right before they begin primary school.
“Why should I get these certificates right after they are born when I don’t need them until they register for school?” he asked.
A lack of Civil Status Authority offices in rural areas complicates the registration process, forcing families to put it off until they can no longer do so.
Often, children who never attend schools will not bother with getting their certificates.
Saeed Saleh Othman, a 30-year-old street vendor in Sana’a, does not have a birth certificate. Othman was born in a rural village in Wesab district, Dhamar governorate. His parents never registered his birth and he never attended school. Instead he travelled to Sana’a at an early age to work and help support his family.
“At that time people weren’t aware about the importance of birth certificates and other official documents. I didn’t get a certificate like other students because I never attended school. I came to Sana’a when I was eight to work and help my father,” Othman said.
Officials at the Civil Registration Authority say that applying for a birth certificate years after a child is born has become the norm in Yemen.
Colonel Ahmed Al-Harazi, office manager for the deputy head of the Civil Registration Authority, told the Yemen Times that most people come to claim a certificate once an occasion requesting one arrives.
“Many people come to us and request birth certificates for their children who were born years ago and want to start school. Several of those people don’t even know the exact date of birth for their children,” he said.
“Parents are unaware that without birth certificates their children lose several of their rights and may face problems in the future,” he added.
He says the Civil Registration Authority has established registration units in all public hospitals to help alleviate the problem, “but people still leave these hospitals after their children are born without registering.”
A March 2013 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled, “Look at Us with a Merciful Eye: Juvenile Offenders Awaiting Execution in Yemen,” said that Yemen has one of the lowest birth registration rates in the world.
“Between 2000 and 2010, the state registered only 22 percent of all births,” read the report.
Soraya Abu Monassar, a child protection officer at the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), told the Yemen Times that the latest nationwide survey conducted by UNICEF in 2013 indicated that 83 percent of children lack birth certificates.
Risks to children without birth certificates
HRW’s report said the lack of birth certificates posed an increased risk against juvenile offenders.
“Most juvenile offenders lack official birth certificates to prove their age. Yemen’s judiciary lacks impartial and accurate mechanisms to determine the age of youths in criminal proceedings, increasing the risk that juveniles are sentenced to death,” added the report.
According to HRW, while prosecutors ordered forensic examinations in some cases, the tests, “relied on error-prone and outdated methods. In some cases, both prosecutors and defense lawyers ordered age examinations that yielded different results, but courts relied on the prosecution’s examinations that estimated defendants were over 18.”
Ahmed Al-Qershi, head of Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection, said that both parents and the Civil Registration Authority in Yemen are to be blamed for this issue.
“While most parents are unaware of the importance of such official documents, the concerned bodies fail to take the issue seriously,” Al-Qershi said. He says registration at the time of birth should be mandatory and come with fines for those who fail to do so.
Regarding juvenile offenders who lack birth certificates, Al-Qershi said that the Seyaj Organization has recorded 52 juvenile offenders nationwide who face execution because they lack birth certificates that prove their age.
“Those convicted of murder while still children are unable to prove they were under 18 years of age at the time of the crime and have received death sentences.”
Because many registrations occur years after the child was born, some parents register their children as older than they actually are, in order to enroll them in the military, Al-Qershi claims.
Project to promote birth registration
In September 2013, UNICEF, the European Union and the Civil Registration Authority launched the project “Promoting Equity and Legal Identity for Children in Yemen by Improving Civil Registration.”
The project aims to offer birth certificates to the largest possible number of children in Yemen.
Abu Monassar told the Yemen Times that the four-year project aims to improve birth registration in order to promote equity among the population and legal identity for children.
“[Through this initiative], about 51 children in rural areas in Yemen were registered and received birth certificates in 2014. Children in several governorates such as Hodeida, Taiz, Lahj, Al-Dhale, Sana’a, Sa’ada and Al-Mahweet were targeted,” she said.
On Feb. 8, 2015, the project launched a campaign to offer free birth certificates for children in five rural districts of Sana’a governorate, including Al-Teyal, Khawlan, Al-Aroush, Nihm and Manakhat Haraz.
Abdullah Mohsen Daban, deputy governor of Sana’a governorate, told the Defense Ministry’s September 26 news website that the campaign eases the process of getting birth certificates for children living in rural areas.