Zamboanga City—More than 200 Sama Bajaus were provided with birth certificates Tuesday, in a pilot birth registration project spearheaded by the Zamboanga City local government and supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
The distribution is the culmination of a pilot birth registration project for Sama Bajaus.
Due to their itinerant way of life and because of generations of non-registration among families, the Sama Bajaus face documentation issues, which in turn lead to their being at risk of statelessness.
It is thought that there are 10,000 Sama Bajaus living in Zamboanga alone, around 85 percent of them without birth certificates.
UNHCR and UNICEF are providing technical assistance to the project under the UNHCR-UNICEF Joint Strategy for Addressing Childhood Statelessness, they said in their joint statement.
The pilot registration initiative also supports the Sustainable Development Goals and is a significant advance towards leaving no one behind.
“The Philippines, a signatory to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, has identified the Sama Bajaus as a population at risk of statelessness. After a series of consultations with Sama Bajau communities, UNHCR, as a leading UN agency toward ending statelessness by 2024, arrived at a recommendation to conduct a birth registration to address their documentation issues,” said Shinji Kubo, UNHCR Representative to the Philippines.
Kubo added: “A birth certificate will help the community assert their rights. Ensuring birth registration also supports our global initiatives to prevent statelessness.
“This pilot birth registration demonstrates the commitment of the Government of the Philippines toward achieving the SDGs, ‘leaving no one behind.’”
Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines Representative said: “Every child/human has the right to a name and identity. Birth registration forms the basis of identity. It has much larger implications on children to have access to education, health care and social services.
“This is invaluable for the indigenous population and those at risk of stateless such as the Sama Bajau we have reached.
“UNICEF is pleased to work with UNHCR in reaching the outlying communities facilitating access to birth registration that will have significant impact on their lives.”
A pilot registration project, which commenced in October this year, seeks to register 1,500 people in the community under the leadership of the Department of Justice.
This project, which is also in line with the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, is a concerted initiative involving the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Barangay Council of Kasanyangan, Zamboanga City.
By end 2019, the pilot activity aims to provide birth certificates to a total of 412 Sama Bajaus. The project aims to reach more communities in need of birth registration documents in 2020.