Stateless children make plea for Thai nationality, rights

Reporters posing with life-sized standing figures of Thailand's Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

As New Year and National Children's Day gifts, homeless and migrant children in Thailand are asking, first of all, for Thai nationality and basic rights.

Kaloh Ma-yeur, a 21-year-old freshman at Loei Rajabhat University, recalled how his migrant parents and him used to wander the streets of Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district when he was seven.

He told of living the life of a glue-sniffing chain-smoking beggar who ate leftover food in trash boxes and slept on the street for two years.

He was saved by Ban Kru Nam Foundation manager Nutchanart "Kru Nam" Boonkhong's "Friends on the Streets" project. Nutchanart and her foundation staff helped him to get an education, he said, but he was dragged back two months later by his parents.

"So I ran away to return to Kru Nam and 14 years have passed since," Kaloh said.

"From being a child beggar who could not speak Thai, I obtained a good education. Now I would like to represent homeless and migrant children - whose lives are a living hell - to ask policymakers to push for our chance to be legal persons with basic rights and protection and better life opportunities," he said.

A 17-year-old Myanmar girl, identified only as Jin who studied Mathayom 1 at a Bangkok school, recalled that her parents used to move from one construction site to another in search of work while she helped them in this physically-demanding job.

Years ago, she met Thongpoon "Kru Jiew" Buasri from the Foundation for the Better Life of Children who invited her to stay at the foundation and be educated.

Overjoyed to get the chance to study, the girl proved a good student and earned all As. She said she wanted to be a painter and to get Thai nationality.

Kru Nam said what the homeless kids needed was love, sincerity and a safe place to find their feet and grow up to be good adults in society.

She urged Thai authorities to provide them with Thai nationality and clarify their status as the country moves towards the ASEAN Economic Community this year.

Despite the Nationality Act stipulating people living in Thailand for 10 years could apply for Thai nationality, she said the law wasn't being implemented this way.

Her foundation was pushing for stateless kids with status cards, starting with the number 0, to be able to register under the foundation's household, so the children would be entitled to basic rights.

Moreover, children obtaining Thai nationality would reassure NGO staff members that their work was effective and legal, she added.

National Human Rights Commissioner Mana Ngamnet said homeless children - migrant or Thai-origin - could be considered and must be registered to receive rights according to the Child Protection Act.

This would entitle them to education, healthcare and decent job opportunities without being discriminated against.

These comments were presented at a seminar held as part of the 7th Thailand National Health Assembly from December 24-26 at Nonthaburi's Impact Arena Exhibition and Convention Centre.