Stateless children in Thailand face many uncertainties growing up.
It was World Population Day on Wednesday and the theme this year was "universal access to reproductive health services". This is an issue child-centred development organisations like Plan International, whom I work for in the Asia Regional Office, feel passionately about. We live in a world where 1,000 women in developing countries die every day due to complications related to pregnancy. These deaths are preventable if reproductive health services are ramped up, especially for marginalised groups.
In Thailand, 16 of every 1,000 babies and 48 of every 100,000 pregnant women will die. These statistics are much better than the regional average, but where Thailand falls down is in the north, where up to a million stateless people have no birth certificate and therefore limited access to stable healthcare and decent employment, and in the Muslim-majority southern provinces, where contraception is often frowned upon.
With this in mind, World Population Day provided an excellent opportunity to address a number of key issues that affect some of Thailand's most marginalised women, children and families.
On World Population Day in Thailand the Interior Ministry marked the occasion by releasing some interesting statistics. There are 64,076,033 people living in the Land of Smiles. Bangkok is the province with the largest population, the southern province of Ranong the smallest. The most popular name is Somchai, followed by Somsak, Somporn, Somboon and Prasert. Curiously, these are all primarily boys' names, although Somporn, Prassert and Somboon can be girls' names too. The Interior Ministry also pointed out that there are 1,017,737 more females than males in Thailand.
Thailand last year voted in its first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who pledged to Plan Thailand a few months after assuming her premiership that she would ensure girls' rights issues are addressed. This is welcome news, but these words must be translated into action.
As we near the 2015 target for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, there is a great need to ensure the rights of women and girls are at the forefront of the minds of everyone, from government to civil society. This is something Plan had in mind when we campaigned last year to make October 11 the International Day of the Girl. This day will also mark the launch of our global campaign for girls' rights, Because I am a Girl. Come October, Thailand will have another golden opportunity to raise awareness of issues faced by marginalised girls.
Also worth mentioning is that the Interior Ministry pointed out that of 4.85 million children aged 7-14 who were supposed to register for an ID card, only 1.7 million did so after a new law was introduced in 2011. But what about Thailand's stateless families? They face daily struggles and uncertain futures because they don't have birth certificates, let alone ID cards – and it's especially bad for girls. Under Thai law, stateless people are allowed to work in just 27 occupations, most of which are male-dominated. Many girls end up working in exploitative situations. Some end up in the sex trade.
Stateless people are often denied their basic rights to healthcare, free education and even freedom to travel. In northern Thailand, Plan runs law clinics to teach children and youths about their rights and how to apply for birth certificates. Plan also sorts out DNA tests so children born after their parents received their Thai citizenship can prove their genetic ties.
Around the world every year, more than 50 million children don't have their births registered. They don't have a birthday and therefore don't have an identity. It's difficult to imagine what that must be like. Our Universal Birth Registration Campaign has the simple motto "Count every child" and you can support it by signing our petition to call on the United Nations to make birth registration a global priority.
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