Friday, December 14, 2007

Birth certificate: not just a piece of paper

Around 5.3 million Filipinos have no birth certificate because they have not been registered with the local civil registrar. Half of these are children. Each year, some 48 million childbirths worldwide are not registered. That is almost seven times the population of Hong Kong.
Birth registration is a basic right under Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which states: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality …”

Why register?
Unregistered persons have no protection and are prone to abuse because they are invisible. They exist but are not officially recognized by the government. There is no proof of their name, date of birth, and family ties. They cannot travel abroad because they cannot be issued a passport. They may find difficulty enrolling in school, or availing of medical care. They may even be prone to exploitation and abuse as victims of child labor or sex trafficking.
Plan USA, a global partnership that helps the world’s poorest children, points out that non-registration also affects adult life: “The implications of birth registration also extend long into adulthood. A birth certificate is often a prerequisite to the right to vote and be elected, to work, to open a bank account and inherit, to receive welfare benefits, and to move freely within and between countries.”

Why not registered?

“I don’t know how to do it.” This is one of the reasons why parents don’t register their children. They simply don’t know what to do.

Poverty is another reason often cited. Parents would rather work to put food on the table than spend their money traveling to birth registration centers.

Another reason is distance. Registration centers are too far away and difficult to get to.

In some cases, the persons in charge of registration forget to file the document.

How to register although late?

Ideally, childbirth must be reported within 30 days to the local civil registrar where it took place. If not, it is considered late or delayed. Here are the requirements for delayed birth registration:

1. Four copies of certificate of live birth duly filled in and signed

2. Affidavit for delayed registration (already printed at the back of the certificate of live birth) signed by the father, mother or the child if the latter could already understand

3. Any two of these documents which shows the name, birthdate and birthplace of the child, and names of the parents: baptismal certificate, school records, parents' income tax return, insurance policy, medical records, barangay captain's certification, and others

4. Affidavit of two persons who have witnessed or known about the birth of the child, and who are considered "disinterested" in the results of the birth certificate registration, such as a neighborhood friend who happened to be present when the birth was taking place.If the person to be registered is an illegitimate child, and the person who wants to register the child is not the mother, an additional requirement is an affidavit on the whereabouts of the mother. For example, if the mother is working in Hong Kong as an OFW and she has a child who has not yet been registered, she could ask her sister to register her child. The sister must submit an affidavit stating that the mother is working as an OFW in Hong Kong.

If the person to be registered is 18 years old and above and is married, he/she must also submit a certificate of marriage.

More info

The National Statistics Office and Plan Philippines has an excellent website entitled “Birth Registration Project” which I highly recommend to you for more information. You can find it at http://210.4.20.92/brp/.



(Published in my column THE LAW AND YOU, The SUN Newspaper Hong Kong, January 2008 main edition).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Teenage daughter is having a baby

Dear Pinay Justice,

I have been working as domestic helper here in Hong Kong for almost 15 years. I have one child, a girl. She was just one year old when I came to work in Hong Kong, and it is my husband who takes care of her. My husband has a job in the Philippines, but his salary is not enough to send our daughter to a good private school, to have a comfortable life and a good future, so we decided that I will work in Hong Kong. My daughter wants to be a nurse someday. To support her dream, I have to continue working in Hong Kong for a few more years.

I just learned that my teenage daughter is pregnant and is due to give birth two months from now. I call home often but my daughter and husband did not tell me. It was my sister who told me about it, and it was she who also told me that my daughter has been dating a 17-year-old boy for the past year, and he was responsible for getting my daughter pregnant. I asked my daughter why she did not tell me; she said she was afraid that I would get angry at her. I asked her if she was forced by the boy; she said no, she loved him and willingly had this relationship with him. She is very sorry about her irresponsible behavior.

I felt angry, depressed, frustrated and guilty. I was angry at my husband because he was not able to take care of our daughter properly; he was too careless to allow this to happen. I was also angry and frustrated with my daughter because all my dreams for her seemed to be gone, all my hard work for her good future was for nothing. However, she assured me that she will continue studying until she becomes a nurse. I also felt guilty because I am away, I could not even be at my daughter’s side, and became even more concerned when she told me she did not go to the doctor for pre-natal check-ups.
I don’t know if I can go home when she gives birth. I don’t have enough savings to buy an airline ticket at this time.

I am confused. I want to sue my husband for being careless in allowing this to happen to our daughter. I want to file a case against my daughter’s boyfriend. Some DH I talked to here in Hong Kong say that my daughter must marry her boyfriend to give the baby a name. Others say I must not force my daughter to marry because she and her boyfriend are both too young, and the marriage may not work.


What will I do?

- Inday



Dear Inday,

Your daughter and her boyfriend are still minors. In other words, they themselves are children under Philippine law. Under the circumstances, you are actually dealing with three children: your daughter, her boyfriend and their baby.

This has important implications. First, your daughter and her boyfriend cannot get married because Philippine family law sets 18 as the minimum age for couples to marry. Second, they do not have the maturity to make certain decisions such as getting married, taking care of a baby, and supporting a family. Third, your daughter and her boyfriend are still in school and they need to deal with school in addition to caring for their baby. These are a lot of demands suddenly thrust upon them by their careless act of engaging in a sexual relationship. I think this is a time when they need the help of their parents more than ever.

It will not be helpful to you and your family to look back and find out who is at fault. Blaming others, yourself or the circumstances will not have any positive effect on your present situation. Your daughter in particular would need your assurance and advice especially now that something is happening to her body that she cannot understand. If you are frustrated and in emotional pain, your daughter must also be frustrated and in emotional pain because she failed you and she knows it.

Before thinking of bringing a lawsuit, seek advice from people who have the maturity and expertise on family matters. A lawsuit should not be your immediate response. Find a spiritual advisor or family counselor who can help you deal with your frustrations first and come up with positive responses to your situation.

You mentioned your husband was negligent because this happened to your daughter. Why do you say so? Was he leaving your daughter alone without exercising parental authority over her? Was he spending all his time away from home, gambling, drinking or just not caring at all? Or could it have happened even if he did his best to be a good father of the family?

You also said you want to sue the boyfriend of your daughter. Why so? Did he commit any abusive act that led your daughter to engage in sexual relationship with him, or were both he and your daughter willing participants in such behavior?

As for some people’s advice to have your daughter marry her boyfriend, legally this cannot be done because they are both minors. Let them think about marriage when they are legally qualified to marry, that is, when they both reach 18 years of age, as long as you, your husband and the parents of the boyfriend give consent.

What you can do at this point is to talk to the parents of the guy and come to an agreement about child support. I suggest a written commitment specifying that the guy’s parents agree to provide a given amount of money for expenses related to your daughter’s pregnancy and childbirth, care and education of the baby. Also, have the guy sign an affidavit recognizing the baby so that the latter can use his surname in his/her birth certificate, and also exercise the rights of a recognized child.
Your daughter will have custody and parental authority over the baby under Philippine Family law but it will be good to allow the guy to have visiting rights so he can share in the responsibility of actually taking care of the baby.

As a final advice, don’t dwell on what you cannot change. You cannot redeem the time that way. A whole future lies ahead of you, continue dreaming good dreams for your daughter and her baby, and move on. The sun will still rise tomorrow.


*****


SPEAK UP FOR JUSTICE – 8th Christian Human Rights Conference sponsored by Christian Solidarity Worldwide HK. November 10, Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm, Chinese YMCA 23 Waterloo Road, Yaumatei, Kowloon. Admission free, donations welcome. Seats are limited so reserve early. For details, contact admin@csw.org.hk, telephone +852 25915403.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Human trafficking: third top criminal industry in the world

The mid-August issue of The Sun carries a news item about Filipinas who were arrested in Wanchai on charges related to prostitution. Four were charged with soliciting while two were arrested for bringing 15 Filipinas to Hong Kong to work in bars in exchange for a fee. The report also says that within the first six months of this year, 18 Filipinos have approached the Philippine Consulate for help as victims of trafficking.

This is a drop in the bucket of worldwide data on human trafficking. The International Labor Organization reports that around 12.3 million people are exploited in forced labor or sexual slavery at any point in time. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 are trafficked across countries every year. Eighty percent are women while 50% are children.

Human trafficking is the crime of bringing people from one place to another for the purpose of exploiting them in forced labor, sexual servitude, or even removal of organs. Next to drug and gun trafficking, human trafficking is the third top criminal industry in the world. It brings a profit of about USD9.5 billion a year, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

People are victimized in essentially three ways: force, fraud or coercion.

There is physical force when the victim is kidnapped, beaten, raped and detained as a way of controlling her to break resistance. There are reports of women and children being kidnapped and moved to other countries with the use of false passports. Upon arrival in the foreign country, they are sold to a prostitution ring. As they do not understand the language or system and because they are detained, they have little chance of freedom unless they are rescued. The brothel manager requires them to serve a minimum number of clients each day, and some of the victims do not have the chance to see daylight because they are locked in their rooms when they are not with the clients.

There is fraud when the victim is lured by advertisements to work as maids, waitresses or dancers, but are trapped into prostitution when they arrive at their destination. This happens more often than victims are willing to report because of the stigma and lack of social support for them before and after their cases are filed. Sometimes, parents are deceived into handing their children over to people who promise education and opportunity in exchange for money, unaware that their children will be exploited in commercial sex or forced labor.

Coercion takes place when the victim is threatened with serious harm if he or she does not submit to the demands of the traffickers. The US State Department’s 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report has this account of a 13-year-old girl from Italy:

Viola, a young Albanian, was 13 when she started dating 21-year-old Dilin, who proposed to marry her, then move to Italy where he had cousins who could get him a job. Arriving in Italy, Viola’s life changed forever. Dilin locked her in a hotel room and left her, never to be seen again. A group of men entered, and began to beat Viola. Then, each raped her. The leader informed Viola that Dilin had sold her and that she had to obey him or else she would be killed. For seven days Viola was beaten and repeatedly raped. Viola was sold a second time to someone who beat her head so badly she was unable to see for two days She was told if she didn’t work as a prostitute, her mother and sister in Albania would be raped and killed. Viola was forced to submit to prostitution until police raided the brothel she was in. She was deported to Albania.”

It is a sad fact the Asia Pacific region is most vulnerable to human trafficking because of extensive poverty and huge population. Women between the ages of 10 to 35 are most at risk of being trafficked if they are very poor or uneducated, or if they belong to ethnic minority or refugee groups because they do not have access to education and meaningful employment opportunities. This was the finding of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in its report on “Gender and human trafficking.”

In the Philippines, the Congress passed the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9208) which imposes a penalty of as much as P5 million and life imprisonment. Despite this, only five individuals have been convicted of trafficking in the Philippines.

Trafficking is a social problem that must be handled in a holistic way. Like all social ills, it cannot be resolved by resorting to the law alone. Stiff legal penalties will not deter criminal syndicates as long as the causes of the problem are not addressed, foremost of which are poverty, lack of education and employment opportunities. The leaders of our country must be moved by vision and political will to face these endemic issues squarely and resolutely.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

CHILD SUPPORT

Q: I have two children, now 19 and 20 years old. They are still in college. I am not married to their father who is a public school teacher. Ever since my children were born, their father has not given any financial support. What can I do? - AB

A: It is the father's obligation to support the children especially if he acknowledges that he is indeed the father. I advice you to write him a letter asking for support for your children's education and living expenses. Make sure the amount you ask for is specific. In your letter, give a time frame when you would like to receive the money. Make it easy for him by opening a bank account in your children's name and giving him the account number.

There has to be some diplomacy in drafting your letter, even if you feel aggrieved, oppressed and angry. The reason is you would like the father to be convinced to give support, so if you are very matter-of-fact and not angry in your approach, there may be greater likelihood that he will provide support. On the other hand, you don't have to beg or be emotional.
Another approach is to ask your children to talk to their father. This may make his heart softer.
If this doesn't work, you could try writing the education department's legal office for advice. I believe they have some administrative processes that may force the father to support his children.

ABUSIVE BOYFRIEND

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for more than five years. He is in the Philippines, and every time I go back home, I live with him. In the beginning, he borrowed money from me, saying he will deposit his payment in my Philippine bank account. Later, he kept on borrowing more money until I realized that this has become regular. He continued promising that he will repay me by putting the money in my bank account. The last time I went home, when I checked my account, there was no deposit from him at all. I asked him about it, and he said he forgot my account number. After five years, I realize that he has been fooling me and abusing my kindness. I also bought a lot of furniture and things for his house and wanted to get it back but he said I don't have any rights. I have all the remittance papers showing that I sent money to him. May I get back my money? What about my furniture and other things for the house? - CD

A: Of course you have the right to receive payment for the loan. It is clear that from the beginning, he borrowed money, agreeing to pay you back. I suggest you write him a letter asking him to pay you back on or before a certain date. As for the things you bought, it will be better if you are in the Philippines when you get these back. On the practical side, does he really have money to pay you back? Does he have a job? Does he have any source of income? If not, it may take forever for you to wait. What is clear is that it will be wise for you consider ending your relationship with him.

SECRET MARRIAGE

Q: When I was 21, my boyfriend and I were secretly married. After a few months, he left for abroad and never came back. Because he was away for a long time, I lost my love for him and fell in love with another man. I am now on the family way with the baby of my new boyfriend. We want to get married but my secret marriage is already recorded at the National Statistics Office. What can I do? - EF

A: I know how you would like to marry your new boyfriend but unfortunately, you cannot do so because you are already married. There is no such thing as a “secret marriage” under Philippine law. It is just a label given to marriages that people don't want their parents to know about. If it has all the requirements of a valid marriage, then it is valid. The only time you can marry is if your first marriage is annulled or otherwise dissolved. Our laws make annulment difficult to obtain.

First published in THE SUN newspaper HK, August 2007 issue