Unlisted no more: Sama Bajaus in Zamboanga City get birth certificates

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 10 2019 07:44 PM

UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov (3rd from left) and UNHCR Philippines Representative Shinji Kubo (4th from left) talk to Sama Bajau families at the ceremonial distribution of 200 birth certificates to Sama Bajau people and families. Handout photo

MANILA - For the first time, members of the Sama Bajau group in Zamboanga City were given birth registration certificates by the local government of Zamboanga City, in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

More than 200 Sama Bajaus were provided with birth certificates Tuesday as part of the local government's pilot birth registration project.

According to UNICEF, there are around 10,000 Sama Bajaus living in Zamboanga alone, but because of their way of life, around 85 percent of them do not have birth certificates.

Without birth certificates, Sama Bajaus are at risk of being considered stateless.

UNHCR and UNICEF are providing technical assistance to the project under the UNHCR-UNICEF Joint Strategy for Addressing Childhood Statelessness.

“The Philippines, a signatory to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, has identified the Sama Bajaus as a population at risk of statelessness. After a series of consultations with Sama Bajau communities, UNHCR, as a leading UN agency toward ending statelessness by 2024, arrived at a recommendation to conduct a birth registration to address their documentation issues,” Shinji Kubo, UNHCR Representative to the Philippines, said in a statement.

Kubo added that a birth certificate will help the community assert their rights as citizens.

“Every child/human has the right to a name and identity. Birth registration forms the basis of identity. It has much larger implications on children to have access to education, health care and social services. This is invaluable for the indigenous population and those at risk of stateless such as the Sama Bajau we have reached,” Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines Representative, added.

The pilot registration project started in October 2019. It aims to register 1,500 people in the community under the leadership of the Department of Justice. 

The project, which is also in line with the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, is a concerted initiative involving the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Barangay Council of Kasanyangan, Zamboanga City. 

The project, likewise, aims to provide birth certificates to a total of 412 Sama Bajaus by the end of 2019. It also aims to reach more communities in need of birth registration documents by 2020.