More stateless children granted citizenship

Thailand, the country called the heart of Southeast Asia, continued to show its heart last week as Thai officials granted citizenship to 46 more stateless children in their continuing efforts to end the problem of statelessness in the Kingdom.

“Now that I have my nationality, my hopes of getting a Ph.D. are restored,” said 15-year-old Wanaree Jaranapong, a middle-school student who said she was born in Thailand but that her birth was not registered.

Wanaree and the 45 other children received their national identity cards during
a ceremony at the Mae Sot district office in Tak province.  The deputy district chief and the head of Social Action for Children and Women, a civil society group, presented the elated children with their official cards.

The smiling children dressed in school uniforms were aged between 10 and 18 years. All were born in Thailand, but many had been left in the care of a local hospital and clinic by their semi-nomadic parents, according to The Nation newspaper.

Tak is a western province bordering Myanmar and home to many tribal people. Some trek across national boundaries in annual migrations following traditional patterns. The border areas are also home to many remote villages and births in those hamlets often went unreported and unregistered with officials, leaving newborns without citizenship.

Thailand has long had an issue with statelessness because of its tribal populations, porous borders, and a paucity of infrastructure in border areas. In recent years, however, the Kingdom has been making a concerted effort to address statelessness.

The exact number of stateless people living in the Kingdom is unknown, but some estimates put the figure at just under half a million. In 2016, the Thai government signed on to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) #IBelong Campaign to end statelessness, pledging to achieve zero statelessness by 2024.

Although the problem is a daunting one considering the numbers of stateless people, UNHCR has praised Thailand’s efforts. “They show the Royal Thai Government’s strong political will to reduce statelessness among children,” the organization’s representative in Thailand said in 2016.

Statelessness in Thailand gained more attention last year following the dramatic multinational effort to rescue 13 young soccer players trapped in a cave in the border province of Chiang Rai.

After the successful rescue, it came to light that three of the players and their coach were stateless. Since then, all have received national identity cards.