While 96 per cent of Vietnamese children are registered at birth, Mai and her siblings are part of the four percent who fall through the cracks. Unregistered children in Viet Nam are almost always from poor, ethnic minority or migrant families. Mai’s parents cannot read or write and did not understand the benefits that birth registration would confer on their children.
Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence in Viet Nam, the registration of births is fundamental to a child’s access to basic services and social protection and later on as an adult, secures a person’s right to getting a passport, opening a bank account, obtaining credit, voting or finding employment.
One morning in early 2011, while Mai was out with her mother selling lottery tickets to make some extra money, she met Ms. Thuy a social worker from the Thao Dan Social Protection Center.
That meeting changed Mai’s life. Ms Thuy spoke with Mai’s mother and convinced her to send Mai and her siblings to Thao Dan in the afternoons to attend reading, writing and life skills classes.
“Before meeting Ms Thuy, my day consisted of waking up, going out on the street to eat a bowl of noodles for breakfast. Then I would go to sell lottery tickets with my mother until 11 am and then again in the afternoon. I hated selling lottery tickets. It is hard work and when we did not sell all the tickets we lost money and that was a big problem for us,” Mai explains.
“Mai and her siblings were invisible members of society,” tells Ms Thuy. “They couldn’t access any health or education services because they didn’t officially exist in the national database.”
In September, Mai will go to a public school for the first time. A good student and a quick learner, her regular attendance at Thao Dan’s afternoon schooling brought her reading and writing levels up so that she can join other children her age at school. Her parents have also been able to apply for government social assistance programmes to ease the burden of poverty.