The local association "ALACASE" supported by Mundus maris has shown its dynamism by getting the birth certificates for schoolchildren in Senegal

Aliou Sall

This was a great step forward for 85 schoolchildren and their families in Hann. On 15 June 2015, a judge sat an on-the-spot hearing to regularise the registration status of young people. This act opens new perspectives for the future of the young people who had been denied sitting exams in secondary school without proper registration documents. Encouraged by the early breakthroughs at the end of 2014 supported by Mundus maris, many families are now queuing up to follow that movement.

The problem is widespread in Senegal and other countries, especially developing ones. The denial of secondary education for young people without civil status is a violation of the human right to education, according to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signed and ratified also by Senegal. But as is often the case with major globally accepted principles and entitlements, they do not translate directly into practice. But we should always look closely at the concrete context in order to advance the principles for the benefit of the excluded. Access to education is of paramount importance for coastal communities particularly affected by the fisheries crisis. They also suffer from marine and coastal pollution and lack of investment  or from measures, which are maladapted to their social and economic progress. What they need is the urgent restoration of their badly degraded natural environment, thus also creating new social and economic opportunities.

But let's tell the story of this success step by step.

This specific initiative started indeed with the support of Mundus maris sporting and cultural associationis Hann during 2014. In the occasion of football and wrestling tournaments for different age groups, local organisers were beginning to take the measure of the problem. They also noted its complexities that do not allow simplistic generalizations. Thus, support for the campaign of the local association "ALACASE" began. ALACASE has as its main objective the support for the creation of economic activities in the municipality of Hann Bel Air. It was created in 2009 and is recognised by the Ministry of Interior.

In a first moment, the path was explored and a "pilot" group of youth received their papers to reintegrate the school in time for the 2014/15 school year. This initial success has given hope for success of a scaled-up campaign.

ALACASE then addressed a letter to the Authorities in January 2015 as an important step to increase the reach of this initiative to a greater range. Mundus maris played a mentoring role for the local partners so that they could gain experience under better conditions. The support entailed, among others, help with the drafting of letters to the authorities, to improve the logistics and work organisation (large registers, notebooks, rulers and other small materials for a census of the families in need), ensure their transport with the constant back and forth to the courthouse, ensure the costs of the duplication of required documents.

This way, they could help parents acquire two essential documents, namely (a) the birth certificate issued by the midwife (in most cases) or the clinic where the mother had given birth and (b) a certificate of non-registration issued by a registrar.

The next step was to sensitise all parents so that each couple would arrive on the day of the hearing with photocopies of their identity card (IC) certified and authenticated by a competent authority in the matter. For parents who could not produce a birth certificate for themselves, the presence of two reliable witnesses with their identification was required.

The first efforts to get the judicial authorities to pay attention to the plight of the families aimed at getting a hearing in the tribunal and to move the parents to the courthouse, after lengthy negotiations of appointments with the judges. Only after so many months of coming and going between the community and the tribunal, and when indeed few parents still believed that it would work at all, was the hearing in the community granted by the state authorities. We had to fight this scourge of young drop outs at all levels in order to open their prospects for a better future.

The efforts of two young main activists at work on behalf of the association "ALACASE", that is Abdourakhmane FALL and Mami DIAW, have thus produced results. This conferred a certain notoriety to them in the community, especially when we know that they have worked tirelessly and voluntarily.

Indeed, a first batch of 85 complete files were made available to the judge at the hearing on 15 June and promptly resolved by issuing the certificates. Twenty nine additional dossiers were introduced but could not be treated. We now await their return in order to give these children a proper registration.

A second lot is going to be routed to the courthouse. It was physically impossible to submit these records to the only judge who was flooded the day of the external audience in the community despite staying there between 9 and 21 o'clock.

We thus wait for the completion of the first batch of records, in order to organise a debate within the community to recognise Abdourakhmane and Mami, as well as Mr. Ousmane Diaw, the registrar of the municipality of Hann Bel Air, who made an outstanding effort to help the people to rebuild their documents. This reflection must also address how to maintain and even increase the pressure on the authorities responsible to end this scourge faster, in Hann and elsewhere in Senegal.

Indeed, thanks to the local mobilisation, the external hearing on 15 June was held under the aegis of the Government of Senegal through its Ministry of Justice. This external hearing in Hann and other municipalities are part of a schedule to meet the worrying problem of school drop outs of thousands of schoolchildren (nationally) and hundreds across the municipality of Hann Bel Air. The young people are accepted in school without identity documents which they do not have for multiple and complex reasons. But it is when they sit exams and arrive in review class that problems arise. The extent of school drop outs has become a "national issue" in the center of the current education debate and stimulated also by local mobilisation.

So, well done! And the campaign continues. We also wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Schuman Trophy which has supported this campaign for young people throughout the entire period.

The photos are of the author.