Source: Internal Displacement Research Programme (IDRP) of the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI), University of London.
Children displaced within Mali, or returning from refugee camps outside the country, face ongoing challenges to registering their birth and accessing civil documentation
By Daniel Ozoukou
Since 2012, Mali has been facing complex security and humanitarian crisis with repeated military coups and acts of terrorism perpetrated by Jihadist movements. In 2018, the security situation worsened and triggered a new mass internal displacement. By July 2021, the number of internally displaced persons in the country had reached 377,781, including 240,024 children, representing 64% of the internally displaced. Moreover, even as the security situation remained volatile over the last ten years (2012-2021), 83,615 refugees returned to Mali, including 35,186 children (42%). This short paper asks whether the children affected by these waves of displacement in Mali are able to enjoy their right to legal identity and access to birth certificates.
Legal identity is defined as ”the basic characteristics of an individual’s identity, e.g., name, sex, place, and date of birth, conferred through registration and the issuance of a certificate by an authorized civil registration authority following the occurrence of birth”. Birth registration is particularly important since it “sets the foundation for the recognition of the child as a legal persona.” Indeed, “a child who is not registered does not legally exist and runs a substantial risk of falling outside of the reach of government’s protective actions towards the realization of child rights.” Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 16.9 requires States to “provide legal identity for all, including free birth registrations”, with progress measured by the proportion of children under five years whose births have been registered with a civil authority.
The question of birth registration for displaced children in Mali is a subject of pressing concern for both practitioners and academics. A recent study on the risks of statelessness in Mali found that the majority of Malian internally displaced persons (IDPs) had lost their civil documents and would have difficulties recovering them. Yet, whilst that study provides insights on the challenges that IDPs face in accessing civil documentation in Mali, it does not explicitly address questions relating to the access to birth registration by displaced children. Drawing on research carried out by the author from 2016, the present paper addresses this discrete topic. The data reflects both desk research and interviews with key institutional actors involved in civil documentation and legal assistance. In developing our understanding of IDP children and birth registration, it equally aims to redress some of the wider paucity of academic literature on internal displacement in Africa.