Editor's note: This is the last of four posts that will relate to World Vision's child well-being aspirations. Aspiration #4: Children are cared for, protected, and participating It’s the middle of the night in the Albanian capital city of Tirana. Romeo looks into the policemen’s eyes. He tells them his name. They go to look him up. They find no record of little Romeo. They don’t know where he was born, who his parents are, or how old he really is. They ask each other, “Who is this kid?” Do you remember when you got your driver’s license? What about when your parents registered you for school? You (or your parents) had to show your birth certificate. A simple piece of paper is literally the proof that you were actually born. What if you never received your birth certificate? What if your government didn’t know you exist? How would anyone know who you are? Child registration is something we take for granted in the United States. We're born, our parents fill out a certificate that the hospital gives them, a person stamps it, they mail a copy to the government, and, just like that — in the eyes of the government — we exist. I’m a missionary kid myself. I grew up in the Philippines, Uganda, and seemingly everywhere in between. I’ve seen lots of poverty and lots of children facing incredibly desperate situations. But it wasn't until I met Romeo on a trip to Albania last year that I truly realized the importance of registration and what it means for a child's protection.
In Albania, children who lack the proper documentation to prove their identity often resort to scavenging on the streets. (Jon Warren/WV/2008)
Every day in Albania and in many other places around the world, children are born. Yet on paper and according to their government, they do not exist. In Albania, if (and that’s a big "if") you are born in a hospital, you get a paper indicating the date and time of your birth. But you have to go to another government ministry to receive a legitimate birth certificate. Since going to the government ministry is an extra trip that often entails a bribe to get the actual piece of paper, most parents don’t go through with it. What does this mean? Well, for Romeo, it meant that when he first went to register for school, there was no proof of his identity. Without schooling, he ended up in the streets and soon found himself as part of a forced begging ring, created to collect a certain amount of money per day or risk beatings from the older boys on the street. Again, when Romeo was arrested, there was no way to prove who he was. And once he arrived at a shelter, the only way to identify him was by first name. His plight is the plight of millions of children around the world — children who lack protection from their governments. If authorities don’t know you exist, how can they help you when you're forced into exploitation? And how can you protect yourself if no one even knows you were born? Read more of Jesse's thoughts on child protection at www.wvacts.org. Read more about World Vision's commitment to child protection around the world. Read related posts: Child well-being aspiration #1- A kick in the ribs: Children enjoy good health Child well-being aspiration #2- Pink Floyd got it wrong: Children are educated for life Child well-being aspiration #3- A time to dance: Children experience love of God and their neighbors