There are many people around the world that are born and die without leaving any official trace of their existence. They are ghosts in their own country; unaccounted for, unidentifiable and hidden.
The lack of functional civil registration systems in many places ensures that a lot of births and deaths are never recorded, effectively rendering huge parts of the world’s population invisible. This phenomenon is often more prevalent in low and middle income countries whose systems aren’t fully developed and key statistics not recorded. Although Morocco has undertaken many important initiatives to guarantee the rights of its most vulnerable citizens, it remains one of 39 countries classed as very low on the vital statistics performance index)60171-4/abstract which calculates a score of efficiency for each country. According to a report by Unicef, between 2010 – 2015 6% of children born in Morocco went unregistered.
Moroccan Children’s Trust (MCT) is a British NGO that has been working in partnership with “Fondation Amane pour la Protection de l’Enfance”:http://www.amane-fape.com/ (FAPE) for ten years and advocates for the rights of children that have no legal status in Morocco. In spite of these children being born in the country; the lack of understanding surrounding the registration process itself and an overly complex bureaucratic judiciary means they live outside the system, the state offers them no protection, their basic rights are not respected and they are socially stigmatised as a result. These children can’t legally attend school when they reach the age of 11, they are unable to access basic healthcare provisions and upon reaching adulthood aren’t able to work legally, travel or vote for political representation.
A high price to pay
The reasons children aren’t registered vary greatly; but this issue often disproportionately affects the poorest communities, those with less formal education and those marginalised by their family connections or their marital status. Many people have difficulty accessing the complex process, but often don’t understand it’s importance, and in any case can’t afford it in the first place. Registration after the first thirty days can be a costly business. “I remember a father that said to me, ‘you expect me to sell three or four of my goats for a simple document when thanks to them, my whole family can live’”, confides Abdellah Soussi, FAPE president and child protection specialist. A formidable investment for a lot of families Abdellah explains, “taking into account the costs of travel, the legal fees and the costs to obtain the necessary documents, overall it comes to between 500 and 1000 Moroccan dirhams per dossier”. Given that the average salary for a low income family is sometimes less than 1000 dirhams a month you can understand the constraints some families face.
UNDER WHICH FAMILY NAME IS THE CHILD RECOGNISED?
It’s also important to note the issue in relation to the specific Moroccan context as there are other countries around the world that have similar problems. In spite of having much more progressive policies regarding women’s rights after the changes to Moroccan family law in 2004; the laws and procedures that make up the process of civil registration are heavily influenced by the traditional patriarchal norms that dictate how family heritage is passed on. This unfortunately makes the process of registering children born to single mothers much more complex. If there is no father figure present, then under which family name is the child recognised?
In Morocco as a woman giving birth to a child out of wedlock you risk not only being socially stigmatised but as stated in article 490 of the penal code you also risk imprisonment from anywhere between one month to a year. However article 155 of Moroccan family law clarifies that if a woman is accidentally pregnant (choubha) and gives birth within the statutory period then that child’s paternal affiliation shall be attributed to the author of the sexual intercourse legally established through any means possible. So on one hand the state recognises and aims to establish the paternity of illegitimate children but also criminalises the mother for giving birth.
“A LOT OF WOMEN ARE ASHAMED TO SAY THEY’RE ALONE”
The result explains Abdellah is that many women hide the truth, “a lot of women are ashamed to say that they’re alone. We have cases of pregnant women who upon arrival at the hospital register the name of any man that they know as the father, even if it isn’t true. Except that it’s impossible to modify that name afterwards.” He goes on to explain a case of a woman who was separated from her husband but not divorced. “She had sexual relations with another man and fell pregnant”, he remembers. “So either the mother declares that the child is the result of her new relationship with another man and so charged with adultery, or she claims that her husband is the father of the child; however, when approached the husband won’t recognise the child as his own.”