Giving them an identity
Priyanwada Ranawaka talks to Jezima N.Nalim about her mission to help those without birth proof
In this country, tracing a missing document, no matter how important, is a Herculean task. Preparing new papers, a birth certificate for instance, would be even worse. One would have to run round a few government offices, write dozens of appeals and then wait in hope.

But a voluntary organization has been doing this for those who have no way of proving their identity. It has been seven years since Inspiration Child Rights Organization started on this noble mission. Since its inception in 1997, the association has undertaken many projects of which the Birth Certificate Project was foremost. It was in the same year that, street children in the city of Colombo received their birth certificates, a name and nationality.

"My idea was not to stop there," says Mrs. Jezima N. Nalim, the Executive Director and Chairperson of the Inspiration Child Rights Organization, that has so far helped more than 4000 children to get birth certificates or most probable age certificates.

In recognition of her dedicated service she received the Service Excellence medal from the Presidential Awards last May. She also received a Supportive Fellow Life Membership Certificate from SUNFO, and The Human Potential Award in 2003.

Jezima has been working together with government institutions, mainly the Registrar General's Department in helping street children get their birth certificates. She also carried out awareness programmes on the Rights of Children for 500 school principals of disadvantaged schools in Colombo, selected by the Education Department of the Western Province.

"Most principals were not aware of the situation of the street kids," says Jezima, explaining that through the awareness programme the principals were shown that these children should not be denied their right to education merely because of the lack of a document.

From July last year till January this year, through a mobile programme, the Inspiration Child Rights Organization together with a team of officials from the Registrar General's Office, medical officers and other voluntary workers have visited several parts of Colombo to issue birth certificates to street children.

Usually a birth certificate is issued at or within three months of the birth of a child. Sadly every year 5-10% of births go unregistered. "A child who is not registered at birth is at risk of being shut out from society," says Jezima.

The most probable age certificates are issued to those who have no documents and are not even remotely aware of their backgrounds. This certificate is issued after a doctor examines the child and via an X-ray determines the likely age.

"We also create awareness among the street children and their families living in the slums and shanties of Colombo about human rights, and other matters crucial to their lives," says Jezima adding that these people are "not only poor, but also illiterate, and ignorant."

The organisation is now planning to take up a new set of projects. "Our aim is now to identify the problems of the people living in these slum areas and direct them to the relevant authorities for necessary action," says she adding that the project officers of the ICRO would help even in filling the forms and handling correspondence. "We are awaiting funds and sponsors for this project," she added.

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