Anta Ouane, a student in Mali who was unable to continue her studies because she lacked a birth certificate Photo: Gaoussou Cherif Haidara/NRC

Mali: 148,000 displaced children lack birth certificates and face exclusion

Published 21. Nov 2022
A new assessment by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) estimates that a staggering 148,600 displaced children in Mali - more than half of the total number of displaced children in the country - do not have state-issued birth certificates proving their legal identity. This situation deprives them of their most basic rights as citizens and puts them at risk of being marginalised.

While the Malian government invests in the restoration of public services and institutions, the lack of birth certificates has a profound and long-lasting impact on the lives and futures of displaced children. Without them, children are barred from officially enrolling in formal schools, taking exams and obtaining educational certificates. The lack of school and birth certificates combined will also deny children a fair chance at formal employment in the future.  

“Thousands of children are being benched from society when they should be on the bench at school,” says Maclean Natugasha, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Mali. “Ensuring the children hardest hit by the conflict can obtain their birth certificate is essential to enable them to overcome the violence, displacement, and hunger they have faced since the conflict started.” 

These displaced children have either lost their birth certificates as they fled from home or simply never had one, due to the limited functioning of civil status services in certain areas of the country. To retrieve or obtain their documents, families must follow a complex legal process, which can take up to several months. As the cost of the process is not defined in the constitution, it often leads to prohibitive prices for children and parents already facing extreme poverty.   

Unless this issue is addressed before these children reach adulthood, they risk being denied freedom of movement. They will not have the right to vote, nor will they be able to own or rent a property. This undermines any durable solution to their situation of displacement, despite the country's commitment to do so by signing the Kampala Convention. 

“Access to civil documentation is a right for all Malian citizens under international human rights laws and the Malian Civil Status Strategy adopted in 2018. The current legal framework should accommodate the extremely precarious situation of displaced children by making the procedure for obtaining birth certificates flexible and free of charge. Otherwise, the futures of thousands of children will be compromised,” says Natugasha.