Syria Undocumented: Displaced Children Struggle for Birth Certificates

Wednesday 9 August 201705:39 pm
Um Samir and Um Jamil live in Jaramana, in the eastern countryside of Damascus. The two women, who preferred not to share their full names, were displaced three years ago. They left East Ghouta to settle in Jaramana where thousands of displaced families live today. They met for the first time few months after their relocation. They quickly realized how similar their daily struggles are; the two mothers work hard to feed their families, after having lost their husbands. Their children were born in Ghouta, which used to be controlled by opposition factions. While attempting to get birth certificates issued for their children, Um Samir and Um Jamil went on different paths. Um Jamil was able to get her child registered, but Um Samir was not able too- and she is not the only one in Syria struggling for legal papers. During the past years of war, many cases of marriage, divorce, and birth in the war-zones went unregistered. In fact, some of these case were registered in courts and offices formed by opposition factions in their zones. Lawyer Mohammed al-Saadi tells Raseef22 that these registrations are not recognized by the Syrian regime, which in result pushes displaced families into greater struggles. Without “official” papers and witnesses, many cases of marriage, divorce, and birth remain “unofficial.” In result, hundreds of children are left without papers, and in result, cannot go to schools or have access to health care and other services. [h2] Stories Uncared For [/h2] Underneath the many social issues made visible within the 6 years of war in Syria, we can find many stories that go unnoticed, yet can potentially turn into big crises in the near future. As the war battles continue to intensify around the country, with thousands killed and displaced, many women find themselves alone with their children who have no official documents. The trauma and burden of being a refugee, even internally, make these women even more vulnerable and in-need, since their children are denied access to all forms of aid and social services. According to the legislator of Damascus, judge Mahmoud Ma’arawi, the family court issues 25 documents every month for “missing people,” which indicates an increase in the number of families who now have to live without a father or someone to provide for them. Ma’arawi has stated, in an interview for al-Watan daily last year, that the number of unregistered children has increased in the past few years, “due to various factors.” The United Nations too has been reporting on this issue. In its report of last year on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the UN stated that 81% of the zones surveyed in the report have issues with legal registrations, which in result “increases safety concerns and limits freedom of mobility and accessibility to services and aid.” [h2] Marriage Certificates First [/h2] Lawyer al-Sa’adi points out that the state has the power to hold on registrations until it is proven that the children are in fact the biological offspring of their alleged parents, to be “certain that these children were not kidnapped or being falsely claimed.” al-Sa’adi recommends “alternatives solutions” that can allow for children to enroll in schools, such as “temporary birth registrations,” until their cases are resolved in court. Article 28 of section 4 of the 2007 civil law in Syria states that for a child to be registered, the parents must first provide a marriage certificate. For marriages to be certified, applicants must provide full information of the both partners and their legal documents. They also need the attendance of the two male witnesses and the woman’s male guardian. The standard procedure in any Muslim marriage requires the signature of two male witnesses. The registration request must also detail the date of the marriage, the amount of dowery given to the wife, and the place where the marriage had taken place. There are tens of cases similar to that of Um Samir and Um Jamil who do not have such documents and information available on them- either because they have lost them when fleeing their homes, or because the Syrian government does not recognize their documents if they were issued by the opposition factions. [h2] The disappeared husband [/h2] With the absence or death of the husband, it becomes impossible to get these documents issued. A long journey of legal work starts, sometimes with no promise for resolution. Um Jamil was able to find the two witnesses to her marriage, which made it possible for her lawyer to file a case for marriage certification. The case was resolved within few months. Um Samir, however, had no contact with the family of her deceased husband, and in result, civil servants refused to register her daughter. To this moment, Um Samir cannot find a legal way to prove her marriage and the eligibility of her daughter, as she has no “recognized” document to support her claim. She continues to search for solutions with her lawyer, and for a way to salvage her daughter’s future. For these women, the hardship does not end at marriage and birth certificates; some lawyers try to exploit their ignorance of legal procedures in order to extort money off of them. Registration requests could cost 250,000 Syrian Lira, which is about $500. Some lawyers would ask for more, or even double the estimated cost, something that these displaced women cannot afford.

[h2] DNA [/h2] The increase in requests for marriage and birth registration has caught the attention of local and international NGOs, as some of them try to offer legal advice and help raise awareness, to support these women. In Jaramana, some groups organize sessions around the Civil Status Law and other issues for families and mothers trying to navigate the legal system, while struggling through displacement, loss, and relocating. Similarly, the legal aid clinics of the Syria Trust for development have also offered such sessions and legal services to tens of families, according to lawyer Khalid Rashwani, director of the legal aid program at the Syria Trust. Rashwani said the UNHCR has helped get 500 children registered since the beginning of this year, using different legal approaches. In the case of an absent father, the mother is required to get a paper from the doctor or hospital where she gave birth. If that is not possible, she needs to bring in witnesses who would testify that the child belongs to the named parents. There is also the blood-testing method, since DNA tests are not available. Rashwani thinks that these restrictive procedures are important, in case some of these children are kidnapped or falsely claimed. He claims this helps prevent the trafficking of children, in order to sell them abroad, their organs, or even put them for adoption. Lawyers have also tried to work with mayorships and governorates to sort out as many cases as possible, but some cases cannot be resolved. Um Samir is still hoping for a solution that would end her saga with legal departments and courts. “I feel as if my daughter has no name yet, although I had named her Warda.” “I am afraid that when it is time for her to go to school, she will not have any legal document to be enrolled. Today, we live with no past or present, and very soon, we will have no hope for the future.”
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