Rights group says Mauritania's administrative obstacles keep children from School

Tunis, Tunisia (PANA) – Mauritania’s national civil registration process is preventing some children from attending public school and taking mandatory national examinations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

In a statement, HRW said the government should change its policies to ensure that no school-age child is deprived of the right to education because of a lack of proper identity documents.

The human rights watchdog said many Mauritanians have been unable to complete the biometric civil registration process that began in 2011.

Citizens and non-citizen residents are required to produce a range of official paperwork, but many people lack the necessary documents and have found the process of replacing them arduous.

HRW said it was told by families that some schools have rejected pupils who lack civil registration, even though school attendance is compulsory from ages 6 to 14. Those who have found a work-around to enroll – often thanks to the leniency of a school administrator – cannot take the national tests they must pass to graduate from elementary, middle, and high school.

“The Mauritanian government needs to ensure that a child’s right to education is no longer collateral damage in the civil registration process,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 15 families in relatively poor neighborhoods of greater Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital, whose children were either unable to enroll in public school or prevented from taking examinations for want of the required civil registration documents.

The Education Ministry estimated that 80.4 percent of primary school-age children were enrolled in either a public or private school during the 2016-17 school year, but that only 35 percent of children completing their last year of primary school went on to secondary school that year.

Nationals and residents who complete civil registration under the program that began in May 2011 receive a National Identification Number, which is required for most health and social services.

For a child to register, their legal guardians must, at a minimum, provide the child’s birth certificate, a copy of the parents’ or caregivers’ national identity card or death certificate and a copy of the parents’ marriage certificate. To obtain a birth certificate, newborns must be registered at the closest civil registration center within two months. After this deadline, their parents must seek a court judgment in lieu of a birth certificate.

Both adults and children must register at the civil registration center closest to their place of birth, meaning that some adults must travel to complete the process. The administration considers birth and marriage certificates and other proofs of civil status issued before 1998, when the last national population census was conducted, to be invalid for the current civil registration process.

HRW said the families interviewed all reported that they had made a good-faith effort to register and obtain new identity documents, but had failed.

The reasons included the loss of the child’s birth certificate, the absence of the parents’ marriage certificate, the foreign nationality of the father, or the fact that a child was born out of wedlock. Some families had managed to find private or Quranic schools that would enroll their children without the required identity documents but knew that they would encounter obstacles when it came time to take mandatory national examinations.

All the families interviewed are of modest means and belong either to Mauritania’s Haratine (Hassaniya-speaking former slaves or descendants of slaves) or Afro-Mauritanian populations. Some Mauritanian groups contend the civil registration process discriminates against these groups. Human Rights Watch findings only describe the experiences of those interviewed.

Several Mauritanian nongovernmental organizations view the civil registration process as a major impediment to academic progress. “When we try to help children transition to secondary school, we are told that applicants must provide proof of civil registration,” said Aminetou Ely, who runs a national nongovernmental organization offering primary school classes to children descended from slaves.

In 2015, UNICEF estimated that one third of Mauritanian children below age 5 had no civil registration and that only 40 percent of children from the poorest households were registered, compared with 85 percent of children from the wealthiest households.

“Mauritania’s biometric civil registration process clearly is keeping some children out of the classroom,” Whitson said. “The government should ensure that public schools do not exclude children on the basis of their civil registration status.”
-0- PANA MA 29March2018

29 march 2018 09:40:16

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