Dressed in their Sunday best, wreathed in smiles, dozens of children hold hands with their proud parents, as they crowd around tables set up in the middle of the street. They are not being awarded diplomas from school, but it's the next best thing. The children don't quite understand what is going on but, instinctively, they know it is an important occasion. Things have been explained to their parents, who have given their consent. In Haiti, children are like royalty; they are called "the wealth of the poor." And today, those parents feel like they have won the lottery: their children will no longer be anonymous. They will finally have an identity in the eyes of the State.
What is the cause of such excitement, such a festive atmosphere? CIDA, with the Organization of American States (OAS) and Haiti's Ministry of Justice and Public Security, has launched a vast campaign to register adults and take an official count of minors to modernize Haiti's civil registry. With the support of 135 community-based volunteers, more than 19,000 children have already been counted in the neighbourhoods devastated by the earthquake and in the survivors' camps. The focus is mainly on minors, as it is today in Bel Air, a Port-au-Prince neighbourhood. On January 12, 2010, thousands of children were orphaned, having lost their parents in the earthquake. But long before that tragedy, authorities estimated that 30 percent of the children did not have a birth certificate.
What is happening in Bel Air will spread throughout Haiti. The CIDA project has raised high the bar: it aims to register 95 percent of the children and all or substantially all of the adults. Annie Horricks, a native of Ottawa responsible for OAS communications in Port-au-Prince, stresses the importance of the project: "We often see parents stand in line with newborns. They want to ensure their children have registration cards. This is very important to them, who have almost nothing. It gives them security." Security: the term is very important, as child trafficking had increased tenfold since the earthquake. Marie-Dominique Beauzile, a Haitian coordinator of the child registration project in Bel Air, confirms: "Many children lost their parents. They need protection and a card to identify them."
No effort has been spared to raise awareness. Neighbours themselves have taken steps to convince people of the vital importance of their children being counted and included in Haiti's civil registry. This is a genuine first in Haiti, in that all minors from birth to age 17 are now recognized by the government. Moreover, through the CIDA project, hundreds of Haitian public servants have received special training to allow them to master new technologies with a view to thoroughly modernizing Haiti's civil registry system. The outcome is clear: the government will have reliable tools with which to fine tune its social programs in areas such as health and education.
Right now, the children showily waving their registration cards care very little about major national policies. As the campaign slogan says, they want to stand up and be counted. But their parents are aware of the importance of this step and proudly say, "This is a national cause. We are happy to be working with the OAS and Canada for Haiti."
Project profile: Modernization of Haiti's Civil Registry
Related story: In Haiti, having an identification card means "having a say"
Haitian children stand up to be counted (PDF, 410 KB, 2 pages)
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