But there’s one thing we often take for granted… Something so basic that we rarely stop to consider it.
A legal identity.
Having an identity is among the most basic rights we have. When we’re born, we are registered and receive a birth certificate. That’s not a certificate to congratulate us on being born… it’s an official acknowledgement of existence.
In the west, we complain about bureaucracy and procedures every time we need a new passport or we change our name and need a new driver’s licence. Fair enough. But imagine the hassle of having no legal identity at all.
Not having a legal identity means that all the basics are out of reach: you can’t enroll in school, you can’t go to hospital, you can’t get a job, you can’t rent a house, you can’t get a driver’s licence, you can’t apply for state welfare. You can’t do any of this because you don’t officially exist.
Throughout Vietnam, there are countless families who have never had a legal identity. They tend to live in remote rural areas, although plenty of city dwellers also have no paperwork to their names.
Blue Dragon has an amazing Legal Advocacy Team who travel the country assisting people in all sorts of difficult situations, including children and families who have no legal identity.
One of our strategies is to work in particular regions where the incidence of poverty is extremely high, and register local citizens en masse. This means that not only do the people end up with their legal identities, but the local government has an opportunity to learn to do this work themselves.
Early in June, Blue Dragon’s Legal Advocates registered over 400 people in Muong Ang district of Dien Bien province – this is right off the beaten track in north-west Vietnam. All of the people we registered belonged to ethnic minority groups; almost none spoke Vietnamese.
We traveled with local government officials out into the villages, set up in community spaces, and then went about inviting people to come and register.
This may sound like a simple and mundane paperwork exercise, but the personal impact of this is enormous.
Prior to the registration campaign beginning, our lawyer Hong spoke to a group of almost 60 families, to help them understand the importance of registering. One of the mothers approached her and said:
None of the members of my family has personal papers yet, but we don’t really care. It’s not important, because none of us goes to school or to work, and we never leave our village.
Later in the day, after the meeting and the registration work were all finished, the same mother found her way back to Hong to say:
Thank you so much for organising this. Now I understand why these documents are important to my family. It will make life much easier when my children grow up and go to school or go to work. Now that we have this paper, my elderly mother can receive a monthly allowance from the government. The commune leader even promised to start supporting her from next month!
Those few pieces of paper – the “little red book” with all registration details and personal documents – make a huge difference. Now that we have completed registering citizens in this commune, we are already planning the next campaign, and hope to register at least 400 more people soon.