Some rites and wrongs of childhood Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
July 19, 2004

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LAST week Minister Bibi Shadick, who holds responsibility for women, Human Services and Social Security within the Ministry of Labour, conducted a remarkable exercise. The Minister paid a visit to the community of Karia Karia in Region Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara) accompanied by personnel of the General Register Office (GRO).

According to a report from the Government Information Agency (GINA), Ms Shadick had earlier paid a visit to Karia Karia and had come to recognise that many residents did not have birth certificates. Working with Ms Dawn Britton and Ms Marilyn Cummings, Supervisor and Transcriber respectively of GRO, and assuming her role as Justice of the Peace, Ms Shadick conducted an exercise, which witnessed some 56 persons being presented with birth certificates - for the very first time. Twenty-six other residents, whose data had to be verified, were directed to travel to the Capital for their documents.

Supervisor Britton’s comments on why so many residents of Karia Karia did not have birth certificates were instructive. The Health Worker of the area, she said, is unable to register newborn children, and the parents would be required to travel to the island of Wakenaam to have their infants registered. Minister Shadick further explained: “This problem comes about from people not being able to afford to go to Wakenaam. And we have to correct the situation to give the Karia Karia Health Worker the necessary authority to issue birth certificates…I am happy to see that these people were able to get such an important document because we want people to be identified as citizens”.

The GINA report also noted that towards the end of last year, two teams from the General Register Office were in Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) where they issued birth and death certificates and marriage licences to residents. We would like to commend Ms Shadick and all those public servants who have participated in these several exercises in order to assist families and individuals in acquiring those documents, which are so important and so necessary for facilitating both formal and everyday business transactions.

While a birth certificate is a document that many people hardly think about until they are required to verify their identity for such processes as writing an examination, obtaining a passport or national identification card, those unfortunate persons, who never had such a document are denied the opportunity of participating in the most basic intercourse of civic life. They are shut out of the formal learning system; they cannot enter the banking system; they are unable to contribute to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and therefore are unable to access any benefits offered by that agency; and they are unrecognised as employees by the Inland Revenue Department. When Ms Shadick states. “…we want our people to be identified as citizens”, she is affirming a profound truth for without a birth certificate, a man, woman or child is not documented as a person and the existence of such an individual is unlikely to be recorded in the nation’s census figures.

Some two years ago, the print media highlighted the plight of a poor woman and her children. When the leaders of charitable institutions made efforts to provide school garments, shoes and books for the school-age children, they learnt to their chagrin that the young ones could not be enrolled in primary schools because their births had not been registered. Poverty, indeed, plays a role in the non-documentation of children as witnessed among the residents of Karia Karia. However, there are occasions when the religious belief or the guiding philosophy of parents is the overriding factor in the non-registration of children. But even if parents, for whatever reason, are not interested in participating in such exercises, they ought not to deny their children the right of formal personhood by refusing to register the births of their infants, as they are obliged to do under the law of the country. Further, the public education system demands that children undergo a regimen of inoculations against a range of childhood diseases before they are allowed to access formal learning. When parents or guardians refuse to observe these requirements, children are likely to be locked out of school, and unless they are tutored at home or elsewhere, they might very well lead the existence of illiterates. This would be a most untenable scenario for this country, which needs every citizen for the goal of nation building.