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Keeping people safe with a piece of paper

“In crisis situations, birth certificates are critical. Imagine being a refugee who can’t return home because you can’t prove who you are or that your children are actually yours. Imagine being denied access to medical care, a hospital, or a school or not being able to turn to the police or the courts.”

Khin, a former child soldier. Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace Image Frame
Having an identity document not only proves what rights you have within a country, but also what obligations the government has to protect your rights. In crisis situations, particularly when people are displaced by conflict or disasters, whether or not you have an identity document has a major effect on your ability to protect yourself and your family from violence, exploitation and abuse. Appallingly, people without identity documents are often deliberately targeted and abused because they are so vulnerable. Black market employers exploit them, sex traffickers prey on unregistered children, and unscrupulous business owners often steal people’s land.

“To live without proof of identity or nationality is to live in fear of being exploited and abused,” says James Thomson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Act for Peace. 

Millions of children each year are not registered at birth because of poverty and conflict. These children are particularly vulnerable to human traffickers, who can force them into unsafe labour, including sexual exploitation. They cannot access vital services, including healthcare and education, and as they grow into adulthood they will often not be able to get a legal job, gain citizenship or exercise their democratic rights. That’s why James is determined to do what he can do to ensure people are able to get basic identity documents. Through his work at Act for Peace he promotes the importance of birth certificates and campaigns for the protection of stateless people. Together with local partners around the world, he trains grassroots aid organisations in how and why to provide identity documents to people in the communities they serve, along with other measures they can take to keep people safe in emergency situations. For Act for Peace, keeping people safe in conflict and disaster situations is as important as providing food, clean water or shelter.

Whether it is helping people get birth certificates, installing lights around refugee camp latrines to prevent rape, or registering people entering evacuation centres to deter crimes, these ‘protection activities’ can have a marked impact. James isn’t alone in his mission. He is one of thousands of staff and volunteers in the ACT Alliance network working hard to protect vulnerable people. In refugee camps in India, for example, Act for Peace staff are working closely with the team from our local partner organisation to help Sri Lankan refugees to obtain birth, death and marriage certificates, giving them the opportunity to return home, reclaim their land, take their children and spouses with them and access legal employment and rights on return.

“A birth certificate is so much more than just a legal document. It gives a child the chance to go to school, a mother access to life-saving health care, a refugee the ability to return home and families the chance of a fresh start after the suffering caused by conflict or disaster” – James Thomson.
 
Thanks to your support, and because of one small piece of paper, a new generation of children is going to school, accessing life-saving healthcare and exercising their legal rights.

The importance of legal documents 

In March we asked you to support Act for Peace’s child soldiers appeal, to help rescue more children like Khin (picture above), who was reunited with his family by Community Organiser May Lyan after being conscripted into the Burmese army as a child.

Your support was truly inspiring, and the appeal raised over $110,000. Thanks to your generosity we will be able to support four additional Community Organisers over the next year, helping many more people in Myanmar to stand up for their rights. Thank you.

Find out more about our work with child soldiers in Myanmar and read Khin’s story here

Watch Khin's Video here

More ways to take action

You can help prevent children like Maala being born with chronic illnesses by helping pregnant women stay healthy and nourished in the first place.

Take the Act for Peace Ration Challenge and eat the same rations as a Syrian refugee during Refugee Week (June 2017). Raise money to support refugees who have lost everything, and challenge perspectives – including your own.

Right now, thousands of innocent people are fleeing Syria every day to protect their families from bloodshed, violence and death. We need your support to provide emergency relief packs to the families fleeing in Syria.