At 16, in her first year of high school, Ziya* gave birth. Just as she was learning how to be a mother to her son, her own mother died. “Things were bad,” recalls Ziya. “My mother was helping me raise the boy so that I could go to school. Now I was alone; I became his mother and father.”
A man stands with a child in the shadows of the registrar’s office in Kibera.
Ziya had no choice but to drop out of school to fend for her son. She took on casual jobs in Kibera, the low-income area in Nairobi where she lives, but they did not pay enough to sustain a family of two.
At 18, Ziya tried to find domestic work in a wealthy neighborhood nearby, but no one would give her a chance without identification. “Petty theft by casual laborers is rampant, so everybody is cautious about who they let into their home,” explains Ziya.
This much became clear: if she wanted to provide for her son, she had to get her national ID card.
Ziya submitted the required paperwork at the registrar’s office in Kibera and was told to come back in a month for “vetting”. Vetting is a process whereby individuals of certain ethnicities go before a committee of security personnel and local leaders who ask them questions to determine if they are ‘truly Kenyan’. Ziya, being a Muslim of Nubian descent, is among the approximately 5 million citizens who have been subjected to this unconstitutional process.
“What angered me the most is how they treated me,” recalls Ziya. “The committee knew me, my mother and my grandmother, but they made me come before them for vetting over ten times. My Christian friends leave with a waiting card on their first trip to the registrar’s office. The next trip they make is to collect their ID cards.”