Making a Brighter Future for all Children in Indonesia

Dina Lusiana, 23, a Padang resident in West Sumatra, did not know what to do to apply for a birth certificate to register her first child at the local Population and Civil Registration Agency (Dukcapil).

A young girl in Cambodia who has just received a birth certificate, providing her with proof of her identity, place of birth and parentage for the first time. Birth registration plays a critical part in preventing statelessness.

Indonesians can apply for birth certificates during the first 60 days after the birth of their children free of charge. Dina, however, only applied for her son’s birth certificate four months after she gave birth to him.

“I had to pay a Rp 50,000 (US$3.7) fine for missing the 60-day period,” Dina said recently, adding that she was late in applying for the birth certificate because she was busy taking care of her newborn son who fell ill. “We did not have any money to pay the birth certificate registration fine since we had spent lots of money to treat my sick son,” she explained.

When Dina was at the Dukcapil office, worrying how to get money to pay the fine, she was approached by an officer of a Jakarta-based charity group, Dompet Dhuafa, who offered to pay for her son’s birth certificate. Dina warmly welcomed the offer. “I was so happy. I did not have to spend any money [for the service]. They [Dompet Dhuafa] have lifted my burden,” Dina said.

Dina is one of more than 1,300 less fortunate residents across Indonesia who have received assistance in obtaining birth certificates through a program called “1,000 Birth Certificates for Indonesian Children.” This is a joint program launched by Dompet Dhuafa and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in January 2016. In addition to protecting refugees, UNHCR has a mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness.

Statelessness profoundly affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide. As many as 40 percent of the world’s stateless persons are living in Southeast Asia, including millions of stateless children. A stateless person is someone who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. Effective and accessible birth registration is particularly important to prevent statelessness. In Indonesia, there are still as many as 40 million children who do not have birth certificates, according to a study by the University of Indonesia.

“A birth certificate is the first step in establishing a child’s legal identity because it indicates who your parents are and where you were born. Without a birth certificate, children could be at risk of being denied access to basic vital services, including education and healthcare. Dompet Dhuafa’s 1,000 Birth Certificates program protects children from such risks,” said Thomas Vargas, UNHCR’s Representative in Indonesia.

Indonesia has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that every child be registered immediately after birth. This requirement covers all children in the country including refugee children.

Dompet Dhuafa has faced some challenges in promoting the program to targeted residents. According to Dompet Dhuafa’s Social Development Manager, Arif R. Haryono, many parents are reluctant to obtain a birth certificate for their children. “What’s that [birth certificate] for?” is a common question, according to Arif. “The second challenge is residents’ low literacy rate. Since they can’t read, they don’t feel the need to get a birth certificate for their children,” he continued.

Another challenge is dealing with complex and often lengthy procedures at local administrations. “Each region has its own bureaucratic process in serving the public. The service in Bogor city administration, for instance, is different from the Bekasi city administration,” Arif went on.

In spite of these challenges, as of mid-March 2017, Dompet Dhuafa has processed 1,308 birth certificates as part of the program. The programme has particularly targeted vulnerable children in remote areas and was launched first in Papua and East Nusa Tenggara. Residents of Papua have therefore topped the list of beneficiaries of the program with 450 receivers, followed by East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) with 186. Dompet Dhuafa has expanded its service to other provinces, according to Arif, including Ambon in Maluku, Makassar in South Sulawesi, Samarinda in East Kalimatan, Bogor in West Java, and Banda Aceh in Aceh.

Working together with the Government, Dompet Dhuafa and UNHCR hope to ensure more children get birth certificates in 2017 and can look forward to a brighter future. No child should be left behind.