HALBA/Lebanon: While Lebanon was holding its last official census in 1932, Marwan Warideh’s grandfather, a native of the Wadi Khaled region located on Lebanon’s northern outskirts, went to his local mukhtar’s office in order to apply for identification.
When he arrived, however, he was told the census worker was taking a break. Unable to register himself or his family, all of them were left without any type of formal identification, effectively stateless, for the next 60 years.
At the time, Warideh said, it wasn’t such a big deal. These days, however, it is.
In Lebanon, stateless people tend to have a bleak future. They are deprived of a number of rights, such as receiving National Social Security Fund payouts when they get ill, and their chances of having a proper career are slim.
To address this issue, World Vision – an international Christian charity that concentrates on children’s rights –and Alice Keyrouz Sleiman, head of a committee formed to address the situation of Lebanese unregistered children are spearheading an initiative to change the law so that kids can more easily get an ID, and therefore their rights. The project comes in the wake of a study World Vision put together called “Lebanese Without Identification” released in September 2013.
The initiative hopes to assist cases like those found in Wadi Khaled, where there are between 2,000 and 2,500 Lebanese who have not been able to apply for an ID because their fathers didn’t have one.
Article 12 in the personal status law says a child is entitled to take on the Lebanese nationality if his/her father is from Lebanon. Despite this, unofficial data given to The Daily Star by World Vision estimates that over 100,000 Lebanese are unregistered, a number set to increase as stateless children grow up and have kids of their own.
Warideh is now a school teacher at the Makassed school in Wadi Khaled. He received his identification in 1994 thanks to decree 5247 passed on June 20, 1994. He was 27 at the time.
“After they finish school what do they [stateless kids] do?” asked Warideh. “Nothing, because they can’t do anything with their degree. They say, ‘Why would I want to get an education if no one will hire me in the future’?”
“We have a big problem with these kids ... Wherever they go in life they hit a dead-end.”
The story of Warideh’s family is one of many that have resulted in Lebanese children growing up without any form of identification. Other families were never registered due to a myriad of possibilities including the misplacement of files or illiterate mukhtars who weren’t able to properly register paperwork.
While stateless Lebanese can be found all over the country, the highest numbers are suspected to be found in the villages and towns that straddle the Syrian border, like Wadi Khaled in Akkar.
Stateless Lebanese usually fall into one of two categories.
The first category is made up of those like Warideh, whose fathers or grandfathers were never registered under Lebanon’s first, and last, census of 1932 when the country was still under French mandate.
The second category is comprised of children who were not registered within a year of being born, often due to disagreements between parents. Since Lebanese mothers cannot legally pass on their nationality to their children, the child must be registered by their father. If the father chooses not to do so, the child becomes stateless.
If a child is not registered by the age of 1, a lawsuit should be filed at Lebanon’s civil courts, but often isn’t.
“Many families cannot afford the lawyer fees and do not know how to go about the [legal] process,” said Sanaa Maalouf, advocacy and policy officer at World Vision.
“The solution of the situation of existing unregistered families starts with the Lebanese government acknowledging their existence and their right of the nationality,” said Maalouf, adding that a new census was also necessary to “identify the real scale of the problem.”
As part of the initiative, World Vision has put together an awareness-raising and instructive guide to the registration process and a television spot to be played on local channels that highlights the struggle of these children.
“Some kids are 16 or 17 and might want to get married in a couple of years and have a few kids, so in a few years the number might reach 5,000,” Warideh warned. “These kids are going to get older and get married and then their kids are going to be without identification so the issue is just continuing to grow.”