Soe, East Nusa Tenggara. Can a child get registered at school without a birth certificate? Can one obtain a passport without having his or her birth recorded? Open a bank account, get married, vote?
For people living in remote villages of East Nusa Tenggara, basic civil registration requires a costly, hours-long journey to the district capital. Many never embark on it.
When 14-year-old Mirna told her parents in March that she needed a birth certificate to enroll in high school, her mother’s answer was a typical response.
“I told my mother I needed a birth certificate to enter high school, but she said we could not afford it,” Mirna told the Jakarta Globe in early May.
Millions of Indonesian children are not registered, which means that their names and rights as citizens are not officially recognized or counted. According to data from the Ministry of Home Affairs, more than 11 million, or 15 percent of those below the age of 18, do not have birth certificates.
While there has been significant progress since 2014, when 69 percent of children were unregistered, the number is still huge, putting many kids at risk of exploitation. Like Mirna, they are often denied their rights and cannot enroll in school or gain access to basic health services.
These challenges are different in each province. Some face more difficulties than others.
According to Plan International, nearly 80 percent of children in East Nusa Tenggara did not have their birth certificates in 2015.
Plan International is a United Kingdom-based development and humanitarian organization, which focuses on advancing children’s rights.
“This is because East Nusa Tenggara is a geographically remote area with a high poverty rate, which makes it difficult [for residents] to access the civil registry office,” said Hari Sadewo, Plan International Indonesia project manager for community-based child protection mechanisms.
From Mirna’s village, for example, it takes about three hours to reach Soe, the capital of South Central Timor district. One return trip costs around Rp 350,000 ($25), and the registration process may require several visits.
The journey is unaffordable for many in the province, where around 1.1 million people live in poverty and the majority earn less than Rp 1 million a month.
South Central Timor has around 488,000 residents, living in 266 villages. To reach the farthest one takes between six and seven hours by car. Public transportation is scarce.
‘Pick Up the Ball’
“Our topography varies greatly, so it’s difficult for some residents to go to the district capital and take care of their documents. But we’ve been trying to address this issue with a jemput bola system,” said Semuel Fallo, head of the South Central Timor Citizenship and Civil Records Agency (Dukcapil).
The term “jemput bola,” which means “to pick up the ball” in football jargon, refers to running toward the ball rather than waiting for it to arrive. Therefore, Semuel said, a team of 19 officers is now traveling from village to village to provide civil registration services free of charge.
It takes the agency between two and three weeks to process the data. After that the officers return to each village with complete documents — not only birth and marriage certificates, but also family cards.
In 2017, the mobile civil registration team reached 60 villages. According to Semuel, 60 more will be covered this year.
“All citizens have the right to receive their civil documentation. Thankfully, people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of these documents,” he said.
As of April, the office had issued birth certificates for 76 percent of the district’s children.
Plan International, which has been present in East Nusa Tenggara since 2016, said the service proves effective, also in terms of raising awareness about the importance of civil registration, which is essential to prevent manipulations that may lead to exploitation and human trafficking.
The government and Plan also reach out to schools and religious leaders to promote birth registration as necessary for obtaining citizenship and legal protection.
The campaign seems to show results. The middle school students who spoke to the Jakarta Globe expressed a desire to pursue their education, and all knew that a birth certificate as a ticket enabling them to do so.
In July 2016, the South Central Timor Citizenship and Civil Records Agency signed a memorandum of understanding with the district’s religious court to provide free and integrated marriage licensing.
Many couples in the region adhere to a customary law of cohabitation, and therefore are not legally married, which makes it difficult for them to register their offspring.
Ticket to Citizenship
When Mirna learnt from her teachers that Dukcapil officials will be coming to her village, she was jubilant.
“She told us she was going to do all registration by herself. She took the required documents and went to meet the officials,” said Beni, Mirna’s father.
“I shared the experience with my friends,” Mirna said, as she became an enthusiastic advocate of the program, informing her peers how to get the official identities to which they all have a right.