Born in public land, disadvantaged children deprived of birth certificates

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Children of Chhinnomul in Chattogram’s Sitakunda upazila playing on the hilly land. Photo: TBS

By Shamsuddin Illius
Publication Date: 02 October, 2019,
Media: The Business Standard
Original Link: Born in public land, disadvantaged children deprived of birth certificates

Swapna Das, a garment worker, lives in Chhinnomul (a large slum-like area for rootless people) of Jungle Salimpur area in Chattogram’s Sitakunda upazila.

She has been living on the government land with her family since 2004 as her ancestral home in Sandwip was washed away by the sea. 

Swapna wanted to enrol her only son, Batsya Das, at a school in Bayezid area, close to her workplace. In 2017, when her son turned five, she went to many schools in the area. 

However, she could not admit him as he had no birth registration certificate. 

Swapna later went to the local union parishad chairman, but he did not issue the certificate, saying that the child had no right to get it as he was living on a public land. 

Like Batsya, thousands of children living in Chhinnomul do not have birth certificates, according to locals. 

These children are facing problems with school enrolment in the port city. 

“Around 12,000 children born in Chhinnomul do not have birth certificates,” said Golam Gafur, a local union parishad member, and Kazi Moshiur Rahman, general secretary of Chattogram Mohanagar Chhinnomul Bastibashi Samannay Sangram Parishad.

Chhinnomul dwellers have come from different areas of the country and they have been living at Jungle Salimpur for a long time. The vast living area is a public land. So, the authorities do not want to permit the dwellers to live there for a long time.

The authorities demolished many slums in Chattogram city back in 2004. After that, around 10,000 dwellers of various slums went to live in Chhinnomul, some two kilometres from the city’s Sher Shah area.

At present, around one lakh people are living in the 850-acre hilly land, where there is a special zone for blind and transgender people. Residents of the area have established schools, madrasahs, mosques, temples, churches and pagodas. 

Children are studying in those schools but are facing problems with sitting for public examinations.  

Addressing the problem, Tapan Sarbabidya, head teacher of SM Pilot Primary School, told The Business Standard: “This year, 196 students will take the Primary School Certificate tests. Of them, 25 have no birth certificates.”

“We are struggling to prove their age,” he said. 

Yasmin Parvin Tibriji, acting deputy commissioner of Chattogram, told The Business Standard: “The children are not permanent residents of Chhinnomul. we asked the local union parishad chairman to issue the permanent residents with birth certificates.” 

“Someone’s birth certificate is related to his or her national identity card. In the future, through birth certificates, the Chhinnomul dwellers will become voters,” said Yasmin, also deputy director (local government).  

“The people here have come from different parts of the country. We are trying to avoid their possible double entry in the official birth register.  Moreover, we are doing it so that no Rohingya can get a birth certificate,” she added. 

Salauddin Aziz, chairman of Jungle Salimpur union parishad, said, “We do not issue birth certificates to those who cannot show proper documents.” 

“When we ask the Chhinnomul dwellers to provide documents that they are living in that area, they do not return with the required papers and then allege that we are not issuing birth certificates,” he said.  

Akhter Kabir Chowdhury, president of Socheton Nagorik Committee’s Chattogram chapter, said not giving birth certificates to these children would lead them to become stateless.

“Education is one of the fundamental rights. However, it is unfortunate that these children are not getting the opportunity to get into recognised schools for not having birth registration certificates,” he explained. 

“The homeless parents of these children are living on a public land, which is not their fault,” said Akhter. 

“I hope the government will realise the matter soon and issue birth certificates to these children,” he added.

Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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