Stateless boy wins 'ticket to a new life'

Keng, a stateless orphan in the care of Mahamek Home for Boys in Bangkok's Sathorn district, almost had to pinch himself when he found he had been granted Thai nationality as the ID card he was clutching will be a ticket to a better life.

His new fancy name of Kittichai Chatsakulphuwadol has been registered at the district office of Kannayao in Bangkok.

He eventually obtained an identity card he had looked forward to receiving for a long time. The ID card which most Thais by birth take for granted will now give him full access to rights and benefits as a Thai citizen.

He said the ID card is one of his most cherished possessions and he will do his best to take care of it. It will help him obtain a better education and a decent job.

The 11-year-old boy is eager to explain that his name Kittichai means one who attains victory and his surname means the greatness of the country's reputation.

Studying at level five at Phra Mae Mary Sathupradit School, Kittichai said he is proud of his Thai nationality and he enjoys the new-found freedom to go anywhere he wants. Stateless people normally must seek authorities' permission if they want to leave their designated areas of stay.

He said when he grows up he aspires to be a professional football player who can travel and play in matches overseas.

Of hundreds of orphans and abandoned, migrant and stateless children in the care of state orphan homes, Kittichai is the first to have obtained Thai nationality under a cabinet resolution on Dec 7, 2016.

The cabinet approved measures to address the problem of stateless children born to illegal migrants or members of ethnic groups fleeing persecution in the country based on the recommendations of the Provincial Administration Department under the Interior Ministry.

Sultan Ahmed, 62, has been looking after Kittichai since he was a baby.

Mr Sultan recounted how he met Kittichai's mother. A woman holding her baby came to him for help as she had nowhere to go, Mr Sultan said.

Feeling sorry for the mother and baby, he and his wife let them stay at their house but a month later the mother suddenly disappeared, leaving behind the baby.

"We look after and love the baby like our own child because we have no children of our own," Mr Sultan said.

Mr Sultan wanted the boy to have a proper legal status, so sought to adopt the boy five years ago.

Because there was no documented proof of Kittichai's mother's personal history to confirm she is Thai, Kittichai was treated initially as a child "without a state".

Mr Sultan asked the Min Buri Central Juvenile and Family Court to give him consent to adopt the child, but to no avail, because he did not meet requirements for the adoption.

Surapong Kongchantuek, a member of the Lawyers Council of Thailand's human rights subcommittee on ethnic minorities, the stateless, migrant workers and the displaced, was on hand to help Mr Sultan adopt the boy.

Mr Surapong said that Mr Sultan was not qualified to adopt the boy and the court ruled that Kittichai should be placed in the care of a state orphanage run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, which technically served as the boy's guardian. This way, the boy stood a better chance of obtaining Thai nationality, Mr Surapong said. He also advised Mr Sultan on ways to seek permission to become a foster family to look after the boy alongside the orphan home.

Mr Surapong said about 500 stateless undocumented children have been abandoned at state orphan homes nationwide.

Kittichai is the first child to have benefited from the cabinet resolution. He met all the criteria requirements for stateless children to obtain Thai nationality.

Kittichai has been in Thailand for more than 10 years, the minimum length required for a person to seek or obtain citizenship. He is also a student and is under the guardianship of the Mahamek Home for Boys, under the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.

"If the problem of statelessness is not solved swiftly, it will have an adverse impact in terms of human rights, and human security. The problem will be carried over to children of stateless people, which will only compound the problem," Mr Surapong said.

Some stateless people are actually Thais, but they have no proof to verify their identity. Some children were abandoned by their parents when they were born and know nothing about their parents or their nationality, Mr Surapong said.

In many cases, it is hard to find proof to verify the stateless children's nationality because they keep moving from place to place. In some cases, there were no witnesses who could give information regarding the children's parents and their places of birth, Mr Surapong said.

Stateless people cannot find decent jobs. They mostly make a living working as hired hands. They are also prone to being exploited by criminal gangs, he added.

Vitat Techaboon, director-general of the Department of Children and Youth under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, said the department has come up with a set of guidelines to help stateless children in orphan homes obtain Thai nationality, which will give them access to fundamental rights, welfare benefits, and protection under the law.

Under the cabinet resolution on Dec 7, 2016, Thai nationality will be granted to three groups of stateless children.

The first group are those born to members of ethnic groups in Thailand before Sept 30, 1999.

The second group are children who were born in Thailand to other migrants, not members of ethnic groups, and are studying at educational institutes or already graduated.

The third group are children abandoned by their parents and carrying a certificate for a stateless person issued by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry and have not yet completed education at the university level. They must have proof they have lived in Thailand for at least 10 years.


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