A successful campaign to register people with the state gets approval to go nationwide By Passant Rabie
Fatima Mohamed Ali, 39 years old, recently lost her husband and was forced to be the sole bread-winner for her four children. In the eyes of the state, however, she didn’t exist. Ali was one of 4,416 villagers from Al-Minya governorate without a national identification card or any form of official registration papers. Without them, she could not collect her late husband’s pension or find a formal job to support the household. Then Ali heard about a seminar on civil registration offered by the community development organization Salama Musa Association. The NGO was working with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) on its campaign to provide men, women and children with official identity documents. With the help of the NGO and NCCM field workers, Ali obtained national ID cards for herself and her two oldest daughters.Subsequently, she was able to collect pensions and get a literacy certificate which helped her get a job at a local kindergarten. The ID makes me feel as if my husband is still around and now I can provide for my children without the help of their uncles, says Ali. Now, there is no difference between man and woman. Ali is one of more than 128,000 beneficiaries of NCCM’s three-year Right to Identity campaign. The original campaign ran from June 2007 to July 2010 with a goal of issuing 40,000 registration papers. The demand was so great, however, that the Ministry of Family and Population, which oversees the NCCM, decided to not just continue the campaign but expand it nationwide. Even though the initial campaign is over, the ministry decided to continue it despite there being no more outside funding, says Lamiaa Mohsen, director of NCCM. We’ve created a national plan. That plan, currently in its first phase, will eventually include proposed legislation and nationwide awareness and training programs. On December 15, NCCM hosted the first in a series of workshops for representatives from various ministries, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social Solidarity, as well as non-governmental organizations such as the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights. Taking the lessons learned from the NCCM campaign, workshop participants proposed an action plan that would continue the work of the past three years, amend the current application procedures for registration papers, launch a nationwide media campaign and enhance the benefits accessible by registered citizens. There was a huge demand for these documents, says Somaya El Alfy, general director of NCCM’s General Administration for Development and Gender and the coordinator of the council’s Poverty Alleviation Program. When we started out with a small goal, we found that a lot more people want to issue these papers and they were more than willing to register, El Alfy began working on the civil registration campaign within the framework of the Poverty Alleviation Program to ensure that people’s right to identity will in return provide them with economic, social and political rights, as well as an improved standard of living for women and children through access to education and proper jobs. With initial funding from the Italian Embassy in Cairo’s Cooperazione Italiana (Italian Cooperation) and the World Bank, the Right To Identity campaign first began in seven governorates Giza, Helwan, Sixth of October, Beni Suef, Minya, Sohag and Qena and later expanded to include Luxor, Aswan and Assiut. Aside from providing funding for the project, the Italian Cooperation also contributed personnel. Civil registration in Egypt is not a big problem like in other parts of Africa where the percentage not registered at birth is much higher, says Raffaella Rucci, an Italian Cooperation program officer who assisted the NCCM. However, the official papers are the starting point for the entitlement of fundamental rights. Without an official paper you do not have a civil and legal existence, and you can’t enjoy [...] access to basic social services such as education, health and social assistance. To educate people about their rights, NCCM coordinated with community development organizations to host awareness seminars in each governorate. They also put up billboards that read, With your papers, you will receive your rights. The local organizations also hosted groups of people interested in obtaining their registration papers, and a team from NCCM with representatives from the Ministry of Interior came and issued the documents free of charge. The majority of document requests were relatively simple, involving people who needed the physical ID card or certificates to obtain services. Of the 128,000 requests for civil registration papers, 52 percent were for identity cards and 35 percent were for birth certificates. The challenge was for the 13 percent of applicants who had never been been registered or recognized by the state, often because there were no records available from the person’s birth. These people had to go through a dental age assessment so that their birth certificate and their ID card could be issued. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t have registration papers , says El Alfy, noting that culture and lack of awareness play the biggest role. If the parents are not registered, they will not see the need for registering their children. El Alfy says that they found one family in Upper Egypt that had three generations of unregistered members. Cost is another barrier to obtaining registration papers not only the price of the document itself (a birth certificate is around LE 15) but the fact that in many villages, people have to travel far distances to reach their nearest civil status registries. Once the would-be applicants get there, the bureaucratic procedures are often too hard for people to navigate, especially when employees of such facilities have a reputation for being unhelpful. As part of the national plan, NCCM has proposed training these employees so they can better assist those applying for their registration documents. One person who hopes to benefit from improved registration processes is Magda Senan, director of the Cairo-based NGO Ana Al Masry (I Am the Egyptian), which works with street children to provide them with an education or a proper job. Senan often has a hard time registering these children with the state, as the majority have no birth certificates. She recounts the time she tried to register a boy in Cairo but first needed an employee from the registry to sign a document saying that the person has no existing records. She says everyone seemed hesitant to sign it and kept referring her to another employee. No one assisted me, and this boy still has no birth certificate, says Senan. We encounter a huge problem when it comes to registering street children who have no identity. Another population that often goes unregistered is young girls, particularly those in rural or impoverished communities. In these areas, parents often do not see the benefit of registering their daughters since they have no intent of providing them with an education. Aliaa Abdel Moneim from Minya sought the help of the campaign for herself and her two daughters Hanaa, 8, and Safaa, 10. They are the youngest of six children, four of whom are boys with official registration papers so they can attend school. My husband doesn’t care about girls education, says Abdel Moneim, but if I have an ID card then I will be able to help my daughters. El Alfy says that parents might not register their daughters with the state, so they can marry them off at an early age. Without documentation, the state cannot prove a bride is younger than 18, the legal age for marriage set by the 2010 amendments to the Child Law. Not surprising that most of the beneficiaries from the NCCM campaign are female. Eighty-eight percent of birth certificates, 99 percent of ID cards and 99.5 percent of registration papers were issued to females. Gender issues aside, some undocumented citizens see no tangible benefit to registering with the state. The services provided by the state are not so tempting that people feel they can’t survive without them, say
s El Alfy. So people don’t feel the need to apply for the registration papers to access them. To make the idea of civil registration more attractive, the NCCM hopes to encourage other ministries to provide better services such as health, social or educational benefits. This has proven to be a great incentive as 42 percent of those who obtained a birth certificate said that they did it to benefit from the Tamween cards for subsidized gas cylinders, bread and other food commodities. Because a birth certificate and national ID will not by themselves improve the life of an impoverished person, the NCCM campaign took a holistic approach to the issue. In addition to facilitating civil registration, the program set up 140 illiteracy classes in the target governorates, and surveyed nearby factory owners about what type of skills they are looking to hire to offer focused training programs for the community. The program also helped women finance small projects through the Ministry of State for Administrative Development’s trust fund for small businesses. All of this, organizers say, will continue. We are currently working in two areas, continuing our original plan and at the same time working to establish ourselves on a national level, says El Alfy. We don’t know the number of these people without identity documents there may be millions. But these people have rights and they’re entitled to those rights.