We see you
I remember travelling to the Ivory Coast; it was early 2010. I travelled all around that amazing country, meeting with stateless people who struggled every day. Most were born in the Ivory Coast, but were not recognised as citizens. And with that, they were denied documents, which paralysed them, preventing them from being able to move forward with their lives, find jobs, education and a sense of belonging to this country they called home. Toward the end of my time in the Ivory Coast, I visited an orphanage in the capitol of Abidjan. The orphanage was home to many children who had been given away at birth, some because they had a disability, or orphaned because their parents had passed away. At the time, the laws in the Ivory Coast did not provide nationality to children who were ‘foundlings’: children who could not provide evidence to establish who their parents were. As a result, the child would travel through life stateless.
One of these children was eleven years old. He had lived in the orphanage all his life. I remember talking briefly with him and when I took his photograph, he said something to me in French. I don’t speak or understand French. I assumed he said something about me taking his photograph. But the translator told me the young boy had said, “You see me.”
It was an incredibly powerful moment. One that I will never forget. In so many ways, children are the most silent and invisible victims of statelessness. And without a doubt, children have the most to lose by statelessness as well. They represent futures denied. Potential denied. A wealth of amazing contributions to society denied.
Stateless children must rely on others for their voice, and this includes other children. Other children who know what it is like to go to school, enjoy their studies and discover the excitement that comes from learning and having an education. Other children who also have dreams but live day to day with the opportunity to make those dreams come true. Other children, regardless of where they are in the world, who believe it is important to say “All children deserve a birth certificate. All children deserve the right to citizenship.”
Adults have a crucial role to play too. Adults who recognise the importance of children receiving every opportunity life can give them, so they may do better than we have.
All children deserve a future.
“We see you!”