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Need to accelerate the end of statelessness in Thailand, says study
NationalApr 10. 2021Students at the stateless classroom in Chiang Mai’s Mae Ai district take notes about the laws related to civil registration and legal status. (UNICEF Thailand 2009 – Kanoknan)
By THE NATION
While significant progress has been made in addressing statelessness in Thailand, hundreds of thousands of people, including over 200,000 children, are still living without Thai or any nationality, including those without any identity documentation, a study by Legal Research and Development Centre at the Faculty of Law in Chiang Mai University said.
These people are deprived of their right to access basic services and face a higher risk of trafficking, abuse, exploitation and discrimination, the study conducted with the support of the European Union and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), said.
The study, “Invisible Life: 48 years of the situation of stateless children in Thailand (1972-2020)”, released on Saturday, provides an overview and analysis of the obstacles to obtaining legal status and nationality for stateless children in Thailand over the past decades.
The study also provides policy recommendations as well as manuals and guidelines for frontline officials to help accelerate the legal process and ensure the right to legal status, including a nationality for every child.
Supported by the EU, Unicef also launched a campaign “Lives Untold: Invisible No More”, portraying real-life situations and hardships that stateless children in Thailand are facing in everyday life. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the situation of stateless children, build widespread acceptance that every child has the right to a nationality and calls on members of the public to lend their voice in support of stateless children’s fair chance to access quality education, healthcare and protection services just like any other children.
“The rights of the child, including the right to nationality, are human rights. Every child should enjoy the same rights and live free from discrimination and intimidation of any kind. The Treaty forming the constitutional basis of the European Union – the Lisbon Treaty – which came into force in 2009, includes an explicit commitment of the EU to promote the protection of the rights of the child in Europe and across the world,” said Pirkka Tapiola, EU ambassador to Thailand.
“In partnership with Unicef, the government of Thailand, civil society organisations and other stakeholders, we are committed to support universal access to birth registration for all children. Moreover, the EU stands ready to support the capacity building of front-line officials to respond to statelessness and nationality-related challenges in the context of Covid-19.”
“Statelessness is a vicious cycle, passed on from one generation to the next,” said Kyungsun Kim, Unicef Representative to Thailand. “A life without a legal identity constrains every aspect of a child’s life. From the start, they are exceptionally vulnerable to poverty and face limited opportunities to quality education, healthcare and protection. When they reach adolescence, they are at greater risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and much more likely to enter dangerous and low-paid jobs. They will lack civil and political rights too, including voting – a human right. They will also lack travel documentation, such as a passport. Facing such tremendous challenges in life, it is extremely difficult for a stateless child to live a quality life, reach their full potential and follow their dreams.”
Thailand has one of the largest stateless populations in the world. According to data from the Ministry of Interior in 2019, Thailand is home to more than 539,000 stateless persons, of whom around 206,000, or 40 per cent, are children.
While Thailand has made great progress in legislation and policy for addressing statelessness, the challenge remains largely in translating policy into practice especially at the local level, the study noted. This includes inadequate human and financial resources, complex and overburdened procedures and negative attitudes among officials toward stateless families.
A lack of awareness among parents on how to register their child at birth or apply for legal status or a nationality, a fear of interacting with authorities and frequent movement among stateless families also contributed to the problem, the study noted.
“To end this vicious cycle, it will take strong political will, commitment and adequate human and financial resources, as well as a change in public perceptions of the stateless community,” Kim added.
“Unicef is ready to support the Royal Thai government, civil society, international organisations and neighbouring countries in accelerating efforts to ensure that every child is registered at birth and obtains a legal status including a nationality, all of which are basic rights stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
To help reduce and ultimately end statelessness in Thailand, the study provides key recommendations including:
▪︎ Develop a legal procedure along with clear directives and guidelines, stating the duties of the local authorities at every step of the birth registration process to ensure that every child born in Thailand is registered at birth and every child who missed out on birth registration has its personal information recorded in the civil registration system.
▪︎ Review certain legal criteria that are not practical to real-life situations of stateless children, such as making the academic accreditation criteria less stringent for a certain group of stateless children in applying for a legal status, including Thai nationality.
▪︎ Ensure that officials at the operational level recognise the right to a nationality for every child and have the right knowledge and skills to ensure a straightforward legal process that is fair, comprehensive and non-discriminatory.
▪︎ Develop legal criteria to ensure that children and their families who are waiting to verify their status have the right to stay in Thailand and can access basic human rights and protection.
Watch academic seminar: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=489686982184505
Download the report: “Invisible Life: 48 years of the situation of stateless children in Thailand”