Stateless children in Thailand still living in limbo

Stateless children in Thailand still living in limbo

Some 1,200 students at Udom Sitthisuksa School in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district usually wear tribal clothes to school, as the border school next to Myanmar is a melting pot of Karen, Mon, Myanmar and Thai children - about a third of whom are stateless.

A 17-year-old Sangkhla Buri-born Karen girl named Thida will graduate from Mathayom 6 in four months and she wants to become a nurse so she can treat villagers.

But her pursuit of higher education may go unfulfilled, as her parents' four applications to gain her Thai nationality have failed.

Being stateless poses financial obstacles because, although universities have a stateless quota, the students are not entitled to money from the Student Loan Fund while business operators cannot hire them.

An 18-year-old Mon girl named Tukta wants to be a teacher for underprivileged kids and is in the process of her fourth application for Thai nationality.

Tukta said her stateless status meant she lived in fear of security personnel.

"When we go to city, people without Thai ID cards get stopped. Lucky, I wear a student uniform so they didn't stop me," she said.

Photchanee Saichompoo, a teacher at the school, said: "If they [stateless children] graduated with a bachelor's degree, they could use that to apply for Thai nationality as people who can bring merit to the country. But the path to that point is very slim."

Thida said her parents would have to pay Bt20,000 in "tea money" for her to have a chance of getting Thai nationality, but there was no guarantee she would.

The National Statistical Office's population and housing census in 2010 found that there were 5,346,592 children aged up to six in the country and 136,942 of them were without Thai nationality.

Surapong Kongchantuk, a human rights lawyer for the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said stateless people applying for Thai nationality are made up of two groups - children born in Thailand to stateless or migrant parents and those who live here but were not legally certified.

The second group included minorities living on the border whose identification cards started with a six or a seven, Surapong said, adding that people whose identification card starts with 0 were not entitled to Thai nationality.

This means both Thida and Tukta can apply for Thai nationality because they were born in Thailand but they have encountered delays and corruption.

Surapong said state officials and local administrative bodies often wrongly believe it is illegal to grant Thai nationality to aliens but not giving Thai nationality to someone who qualified for it was also illegal - that was negligence in performing their duty.

Udom Sitthisuksa School director Pongsakorn Pulsombat, a member of a

committee that screens applications for nationality in that area, said this process needed to be thorough and evidence needed to be verified.

Pongsakorn said some stateless people supposedly had a private hospital certify their birth but the year of birth didn't match an applicant's year of birth.

He would push for children at his school to get nationality but it depended on the evidence. He said that after Thailand ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, public schools nationwide introduced a policy in 2005 to give stateless children equal entitlement to the per-head subsidy, lunch and the tuition fee.

Pongsakorn urged people should have at least one nationality so as to receive protection under the state and basic rights as a citizen. "The nation's component - besides territory, sovereignty, etc - also includes the population and the birth rate is on the decline, so that's food for thought," he added.

Pongsakorn said a stateless child who graduates from Mathayom 6 should be considered for Thai nationality and that would solve the problem.

"I personally think Mathayom 6 graduation confirms that the child is responsible, knowledgeable and thus deserves an educational opportunity. They can be good citizens for the country," he said.

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