Street kids waging uphill struggle for citizenship

Kathmandu, November 4:

Street children have realised the need for having valid citizenship papers and have also started striving for these. But the bureacratic red tape, excruciating administrative hassles and the need to trace their father and family members is daunting them.

When 18-year-old Arjun Dhungana decided to settle down and start a small-scale business as a street vendor, his first challenge was to get a citizenship certificate. Born at Tabahal, ward 22 of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Arjun had left his family and started living on the streets at the age of eleven.

“When I decided to start a business, the first thing I needed was a citizenship certificate for which I had to trace my parents,” said Arjun. It was not an easy task for one cut off from the family for so long. “It took me a year to trace my mother who has been living in Bhaktapur after my father left her,” he said, “Starting from Tabahal where we used to live, I went to Pokhara and then to Chitwan from where my mother hailed in order to know her whereabouts.” An acquaintance who spotted her in Bhaktapur gave Arjun the clue to find her.

Though a record retrieved at District Administration Office (DAO), Kathmandu had helped secure his mother citizenship which was endorsed by his father, that was not evidence enough. A long wait at the DAO and the kindness of the officer concerned helped him get the certificate in the absence of his father or any family member. Arjun managed to get the citizenship certificate on October 16. With great difficulty, he is earning a livelihood by selling goods on the streets of Taumadi, Bhaktapur.

In contrast, 19 year-old Jog Bahadur Tamang’s case is a prickly one. Tamang has a long way to go before he gets the certificate as his father does not have one. Since Jog’s father left his home four decades ago as a youngster, he cannot trace his family now. Jog, who is a ragpicker, is pessimistic about getting the certificate.

Bishnu Bashyal, advocate at the Forum for Women’s Law and Development said, “Though the law has the provision to issue citizenship certificates to those whose fathers’ whereabouts are unknown, the identification process by the father’s family members at the administration office is a major obstacle.” She added that discriminatory legal system which denies issuance of citizenship to children on the basis of the mother’s citizenship, has deprived many street children of citizenship.

“In view of the hassles, this Dashain we encouraged street children to go back and reintegrate with their families and at least get birth registration certificates,” said Suchita Shah, programme manager at Sath Sath.